The Obama administration reportedly is fuming over Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to accept Speaker Boehner’s invitation to address Congress, which Netanyahu made without consulting the White House. The Israeli Prime Minister will “pay a price,” an administration official told an Israeli newspaper.
Obama has perfected the art of ginning up grievances against Netanyahu and using them to seek concessions from Israel, as Netanyahu tries to smooth things over. I assume there’s an element of this at play in the current dispute, but the way Netanyahu handled this situation really does look like a finger in Obama’s eye.
Why, then, did Netanyahu agree to speak to Congress without first consulting with the White House?
At one level, the answer seems straightforward. Netanyahu wanted badly to speak to Congress, and he knew that if he consulted Obama, the president would urge him not to. Better to come without consulting than to come after being told by the president not to.
But why did Netanyahu badly want to address Congress? Three possible explanations come quickly to mind: the political, the personal, and the substantive.
Netanyahu will soon face an election. Thus, as with any politician, we should consider the possibility that political considerations caused him to act as he did here.
I don’t know enough about current Israeli politics to assess how speaking before Congress is likely to affect Netanyahu’s electoral prospects. On the plus side, he will make a highly publicized address to an extremely prestigious body. On the minus side, his relations with Obama will become even more chilly.
Do the pluses outweigh the minuses? Again, I don’t know.
On a personal level, Netanyahu must relish sticking it to Obama with this speech. But I doubt that personal satisfaction would trump political and substantive policy considerations on a matter as important as this one.
The third explanation is that Netanyahu has become convinced that the situation is now so desperate for Israel that he must rally Congress. The problem isn’t so much that Obama is negotiating ineptly; it’s that Obama appears to be negotiating out of a desire for detente with Iran, not a desire to keep it from going nuclear. Meanwhile, Iran appears to be making progress in developing a nuclear capability.
But does Netanyahu believe that speaking to Congress will turn the tide? Congress already seems prepared to pass sanctions legislation. No speech by Netanyahu is needed to bring this about.
The problem is that Obama will veto the legislation and the votes to override the veto may not be there. Will a Netanyahu speech will generate those votes?
I doubt it. The votes will have to come from Democrats. If anything, the Dems may be less inclined to override their president’s veto in the face of what looks like a slight of Obama by Israel’s leader.
Since none of the three explanations I have offered seems solid, let’s try a fourth one.
If Netanyahu has given up on Obama, but believes that Israel faces an imminent threat, he will have to consider the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran (assuming he is reelected). Perhaps Netanyahu’s speech is intended to prepare the public relations battlefield for such a strike.
This is pure speculation on my part, but I don’t think it should be ruled out as a possible explanation.
Finally, what if Netanyahu’s strategy is to make the White House believe he has given up on Obama and is laying the ground work for an attack on Iran? In this scenario, Netanyahu isn’t trying to influence Congress as much as he’s trying to sway Obama in one desperate effort to dissuade him from appeasing the Iranian regime.
To me, Netanyahu’s behavior looks look a plea for help from interests and entities on this shore. I’m just not sure which ones.