Yes, Netanyahu Pulled it Off

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu came to Congress with one simple objective: and he pulled it off.

Contact Editor
Ari Soffer,

Netanyahu addresses Congress
Netanyahu addresses Congress
Reuters

Binyamin Netanyahu will be very pleased with his performance in front of Congress today.

After weeks of controversy, which merely helped raise the profile of his speech ("Never has so much been said about a speech that hasn't even been given yet," he joked yesterday at AIPAC's Policy Conference), all eyes were on the Israeli prime minister as he took the podium to make Israel's case against the pending deal with Iran over its nuclear program. 

And that he did.

No, Obama (who, like John Kerry, says he didn't even watch the speech at all) won't now be frantically reaching for the phone and ordering his diplomats to radically shift his administration's stance in talks with Tehran. Kerry won't be breaking off his intimate tet-a-tets with Tehran's foreign minister either. In fact, once the dust settles it's unlikely we will see any kind of "radical" change in the deeply troubling trajectory of the P5+1 talks, which are looking more and more like unabashed appeasement.

But then, that's not what Netanyahu went to Congress for.

Putting aside the accusations that it was all just some elaborate election ploy - a silly claim given that it was Boehner who initiated the whole thing by issuing the invitation, though the Likud leader doubtless savored the opportunity so close to March 17 - Netanyahu's objective in all this was actually very straightforward: to make Israel's case.

Yet while the task in theory was straightforward, in practice it was no simple matter. From a diplomatic perspective, Netanyahu was walking a minefield; how to oppose the White House from within Congress without it looking like an all-out attack? He managed to pull that off as well as could be hoped, spending considerable time praising Obama's record while skillfully avoiding any direct criticism of the administration - though regardless, the indictment of the administration's strategy was still stinging.

Instead, the Israeli PM merely outlined his country's perspective, and laid out clearly and succinctly, in just two points, precisely what is so wrong with the looming deal: 1. The fact that it allows Iran to maintain its current nuclear capabilities, merely pausing their program but still leaving Tehran fully capable of reaching the nuclear threshold at a later date of its choosing; and 2. Even more obscenely, giving the deal a 10-year expiration date, after which Iran is legitimately allowed to go ahead and... build nuclear weapons!

Mercifully, he did it all without the help of any of his now world-famous (infamous?) props. Cartoon bombs might be suitable for the theater of the absurd that is the United Nations - where brutal dictatorships define the "human rights" narrative - but would have essentially made a mockery of the "most important legislative body in the world," as Netanyahu himself put it.

But in fact, he wasn't just speaking for Israel. As he alluded to during his speech, Netanyahu was essentially representing all Middle Eastern states, primarily the Arab gulf states, threatened by Tehran's blatantly imperialist ambitions and the terrifying prospect of the Shia Islamist theocracy already bristling with arms soon wielding nuclear warheads. 

Perversely (and that's probably the most suitable adjective to describe much of Obama's foreign policy), the very states most threatened by Iran's nuclear ambitions - Israel, Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni Arab states - have been shunted aside throughout the entire diplomatic process, denied access to or any say whatsoever in the negotiations. Instead, we've been told to leave it to the boys who know best: patronizing western powers whose every naive foray into Middle Eastern diplomacy resembles an American tourist wandering haplessly through a "Persian bazaar," to borrow a rather fitting metaphor from Netanyahu's speech.

This speech - as Netanyahu explained yesterday at AIPAC - was Israel's attempt to foil those trying to shut it out, and have its voice heard. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Those who have so fiercely criticized Netanyahu's perceived chutzpah towards Obama, particularly liberal American Jews so feverishly rushing to prove their loyalty, would do well to remember this: Israel is not some servile vassal state, ready and willing to die for the sake of a western experiment. While they can afford to be wrong, at least in the short-term, for us the stakes could not be higher. For Israel, and many of its neighbors, "Oh well, we tried!" isn't on the cards.

To put it another way: compared to the existential threat we face from a nuclear Iran, two years of a thoroughly peeved Barack Obama is a price we're willing to pay.

It was that sentiment which Netanyahu expressed at the end of his speech, when he declared:

"The days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies - those days are over... Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand."

That is certainly true. As any normal country would do, we are even willing to risk our deepest friendships for the sake of our own survival and go it alone.

Of course, as Netanyahu himself hastened to add, we sincerely hope that will not be the case - for Israel of all countries knows the horrific price which would be paid, by us and the entire region, if the diplomatic track fails and the military option is the only one remaining:

"But I know that Israel does not stand alone - I know that America stands with Israel; I know that you stand with Israel." 

Where does Obama stand as he rushes headfirst into a desperate detente with Iran? That's not so clear at all.