Analysis |

Netanyahu Rooting for Republicans in U.S. Midterm Elections

White House staffers don’t need the National Security Agency to guess what results the Israeli prime minister would like to wake up to on Wednesday morning.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint meeting of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., May 24, 2011.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint meeting of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., May 24, 2011.Credit: AFP
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

The lights will be on very late Tuesday night in the Prime Minister’s Office, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be glued to Fox News as he waits for a call from Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer about the results of the midterm U.S. congressional elections.

It’s no secret that Netanyahu and his aides are praying for control of the U.S. Senate to fall to the Republicans, who already hold the majority of the House of Representatives. Based on recent U.S. polls, there’s a fairly good chance those prayers will be answered. However, Netanyahu won’t break open any champagne prematurely. He did that two years ago, before the presidential elections, only to see his favored candidate, Mitt Romney, lose to incumbent President Barack Obama.

White House staffers don’t need the National Security Agency to guess what results Netanyahu would like to wake up to on Wednesday morning. They believe Netanyahu could integrate well in Congress as a Republican senator from Texas or North Carolina. They know that his envoy, Dermer, is investing most of his time lately meeting with Republican lawmakers, and they also remember that casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, Netanyahu’s patron and the publisher of his mouthpiece, Israel Hayom, shelled out $100 million to try to defeat Obama.

Speaking of Dermer and Adelson, a few months ago U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice met with the leader of one of the major American Jewish organizations. When the latter asked Rice why she hadn’t met with Dermer. Rice responded, with her characteristic sarcasm, “He never asked to meet me.”

“Besides, I understood that he’s too busy traveling to Sheldon Adelson’s events in Las Vegas.”

Rice was referring to Dermer’s exceptional attendance as guest of honor at a gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition in March. That event served to prove to Obama’s aides that despite the “new leaf” Dermer had promised when he arrived in Washington only a few months earlier, he continued to dabble in American domestic politics as a sympathizer with the red, Republican side.

National Security Council Deputy Spokesman Alistair Baskey downplayed Rice''s quotes as "based on unattributed hearsay," adding, "no-one sought to check with us before running the piece".

Baskey added that Rice met with Ambassador Dermer as recently as last Thursday during the semi-annual U.S.-Israel Consultative Group. "The report gets that basic fact wrong," he said. "This is yet another distraction from the reality – which is that the U.S.-Israel relationship today is actually fundamentally stronger in many respects than it’s ever been.”

Netanyahu is either convinced, or trying to convince himself, that Obama will have limited room to maneuver following a Republican victory. He believes that a Republican victory could help him thwart what Obama and his people have declared is the most important issue foreign policy issue during his second term as president – a historic agreement with Iran on its nuclear program.

The congressional elections are taking place only three weeks before the end of the period allotted for negotiations between Iran and the six world powers, and five days before the summit meeting of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Immediately after the elections, particularly if the Republicans do well, Netanyahu is expected to launch a major effort to incite Congress against any deal at all with Iran. His envoys at the Israeli Embassy will hold urgent briefings with American legislators and ask them to act, while officials from the Israel advocacy group AIPAC will be in and out of lawmakers’ offices, carrying pages of Netanyahu’s talking points.

But it’s possible that Netanyahu, who considers himself an expert on America, is again analyzing the situation incorrectly. He is forgetting that when it comes to foreign policy, the ability of Congress to restrict the president is nearly zero. It is equally possible that, particularly after a Republican election victory, that Obama will feel he has nothing to lose.

Freed from the shackles of domestic political considerations, he may not only push forward at full force to reach an agreement with Iran, he may also start settling accounts with Netanyahu.

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