The announcement by veteran U.S. senator Barbara Mikulski that she supports the nuclear accord with Iran marked President Obama’s victory in his attempt to pass the deal through the U.S. Congress. It was also testimony to the rout of senior figures in the Republican Party, the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who have all tried in recent months to use every means at their disposal to thwart ratification of the accord.
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Netanyahu’s defeat may be even greater. In the time remaining until the Senate vote, expected to take place around September 10, Obama and his people will try to recruit the support of seven additional Democratic senators. If they succeed and get 41 senators on board, they could conduct a filibuster in the Senate. That way, there will be no vote on the proposition to oppose the accord and Obama won’t need to use his veto. Given his present momentum, such an achievement is not unthinkable.
As on many previous occasions, Netanyahu knowingly or unknowingly embarked on a futile course that led him to a resounding debacle in the arena most dear to him. In recent weeks, Netanyahu has told cabinet ministers, American Jewish leaders and journalists that he believes there is a chance to block the nuclear accord in Congress. Dermer, who met more than 200 senators and congressmen in recent months, also radiated optimism.
In conversations with right-wing journalists a few weeks ago he explained that the trending sentiment in the Senate is against the accord and that people in Israel don’t understand U.S. politics. Some journalists bought into this and echoed him at every opportunity, creating the impression that Congress will very soon cast the deal into history’s dustbin.
If Netanyahu and Dermer didn’t mean what they were saying, they were brazenly lying. But that is apparently not the case. More likely, as in the past, the Netanyahu-Dermer duo seriously miscalculated political realities in the United States. Their failure in understanding congressional dynamics was a replay of their misreading of the situation during the 2012 presidential elections when, together with their patron, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, they put all their chips on Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
In sessions dealing with security-diplomatic issues since 2009, Netanyahu repeatedly told cabinet ministers or senior officials who ventured to give him advice on relations with the United States: “Leave America to me.” Netanyahu believes he is the foremost expert on American politics, but it again turns out that the America he knows has changed. He is familiar with the Republican and conservative America of the 1980s, but knows nothing about the Democratic and progressive America of 2015.
The problem is that in his headlong crash into the wall, he took with him many innocent victims. With his forceful interference in Congress’ approach to the accord, he turned Israel into a divisive issue in U.S. politics. In his calls on American Jews to support him and not their president, he ripped the fabric of American Jewry. His fight with Obama caused grave damage to U.S.-Israeli relations, with implications that will be apparent in the coming year.
One might have hoped that Wednesday’s events would stop Netanyahu and cause him to take stock, to examine where he went wrong and formulate new policies. Apparently, this will not happen. The first reactions from his bureau indicated the opposite. He intends to continue fighting the deal.
After failing in Congress, he will take the fight to American public opinion. We can expect to see him on every possible U.S. media outlet in the next few weeks, with one message: Obama may have won on technicalities, but if the public doesn’t support him, the deal has no legitimacy and will collapse or be altered when Obama leaves office.