Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been invited to address a joint session of congress on March 3rd.
Normally such an invitation would not raise an eyebrow in the political community. After all Israel is one of our strongest allies in the Middle East. A visit from the Prime Minister would typically be trumpeted as a sign of solidarity with our Jewish partners.
However this particular invitation has caused a firestorm on the Hill because it was not issued through the customary protocols via the White House and State Department but rather through the Speaker of the House, John Boehner. In fact the White House wasn’t notified of the planned address until a just a few hours before the announcement was made to the public. Neither were Jewish members of congress nor the usual gaggle of pro-Israel groups that are normally consulted whenever Israel wants something from the US. The snub has pissed off a lot of the usual suspects that Israel counts on for support.
So why did the Speaker call an end run around the White House?
Netanyahu and the president have a very deep difference of opinion on how to deal with Iran’s nuclear threat. The president, as is his custom, is seeking a diplomatic path toward persuading the Iranians to halt their development of a nuclear arsenal. He has issued a series of economic sanctions that seem to be working. For the first time in history Iran is engaging in substantive talks to deal with their nuclear development. The president wants to let the dialogue play out.
Netanyahu vehemently disagrees. He believes that Iran’s willingness to talk is little more than a delaying tactic to allow them more time to develop a bomb. Netanyahu would like send his fighters in to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities immediately…or at the very least initiate even tougher economic sanctions to bring the issue to a head. The president has resisted tougher sanctions for fear that they will curtail the progress that has already been made.
It should come as no surprise that Republicans agree with the Israeli prime minister. They see the president’s foreign policy as feckless, particularly when it comes to dealing with Iran. Republicans believe their views were validated in the recent mid-tem elections that handed them control of both chambers of congress. Euphoric after their victory, and if I must day a bit full of themselves, they by-pass the president and invite the prime minister to address their joint session; thereby sending the clear political message that Israel’s true friends reside in the GOP.
Netanyahu is no stranger to politics. He faces a re-election vote not two weeks after he addresses congress. What better demonstration of his bona fides than to be seen making Israel’s case to the world’s lone superpower.
Normally this move by the Republicans would be nothing more than the usual political grandstanding; just another example of the GOP’s ongoing effort to marginalize this president. More proof that any thought of political compromise and productivity over the next two years is just an illusion.
But playing politics with Iran’s nuclear threat is should not be “business as usual.” It’s dangerous! It sends a message to Iran that we are not unified in our response to their nuclear development. It opens up the very real possibility that Iran views our internal conflicts as a lack of resolve; which in turn emboldens them to continue their nuclear endeavors. Should that be the case, a heavy price will be paid. And the first to pay that price will be Israel.