Harsh Rhetoric Sets Stage for High Noon Drama in Netanyahu’s Congress Speech

The prime minister’s onslaught could convince Tehran to take the nuclear deal and to widen current U.S.-Israel rift to a historic rupture.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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President Barack Obama, right, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, of Israel in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, Friday, May 20, 2011.
President Barack Obama, right, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, of Israel in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, Friday, May 20, 2011.Credit: AP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

If there was any hope in the Prime Minister’s Office that recent reports of breakthroughs in the nuclear talks with Iran would blunt some of the controversy and create a more convenient atmosphere in advance of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to Congress, by mid-week it was clear that this was nothing more than a temporary lull before all-out war broke out. The administration brought out its heavy guns, Netanyahu counterattacked with harsh tones and wagging finger, burning his bridges with Democratic senators in the process.

Susan Rice, often described as the “feistiest” of Netanyahu’s Washington foes, said his latest moves were “destructive”. Secretary of State John Kerry lost his familiar cool before a skeptical Congressional panel, conjuring Netanyahu’s misplaced 2002 projections about Iraq in an effort to undermine his dire 2015 predictions on Iran. Netanyahu, for his part, began to talk to world’s powers in the same language he addresses his political foes, accusing them of capitulation before he goes on, presumably, to describe them as weak-kneed, anti-Zionist enemies of the state.

All this against a backdrop of increasingly high-octane rhetoric, starting with Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, an Israel supporter and AIPAC stalwart, who accused Netanyahu of “disappointing those of us who have stood with Israel for decades”; through Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen who described Netanyahu as “reckless”; and, most injuriously of all, Daily Show host Jon Stewart who used the recent revelations of questionable intelligence documents to accuse Netanyahu of spreading the same kind of lies about Iran that the Bush administration used to justify its war in Iraq – and with similar goals in mind.

On the other hand, however, one can’t deny that this ballooning brouhaha is only enhancing the anticipation and expectations in advance of Netanyahu’s speech, turning it into a potential ratings blockbuster, the best show in town, a one on one, High Noon style showdown between Netanyahu and President Obama, tense political drama of the kind that House of Card writers can only dream about. Before the fight of the century between boxers Mayweather and Pacquiao, Netanyahu will be stepping up to a Capitol Hill podium for his own fateful battle, with the whole world against him and only the Republicans cheering him on.

It’s impossible to tell what the reaction will be on the day after, but the headlines the night before are crystal clear: “The speech of his life”. Not only because his Congress appearance is emerging as Netanyahu’s last defense against the incessant wave of negative publicity and insinuations of corruption that are plaguing his chances for reelection, but because this is the supposedly Churchillian moment that he’s been waiting for all his life. Now he will be Daniel entering the Lions’ Den to caution the world against the dangers he’s been warning about for the past quarter century at least: “One cannot dismiss the possibility,” he wrote in his 1995 book A Place Among the Nations, “that Iran will use atomic weapons, not only against Israel but against other countries, will deceive Western countries, including the United States, first and foremost, and thus try to bring about the ancient vision of the victory of Islam over the infidels.”

The strange and even tragic thing is that in recent weeks, Netanyahu has been doing all he can to help the Iranians achieve what he describes as “a license” to make nuclear weapons, first by alienating Obama and the administration and they by infuriating the Democratic senators, without which there is no veto-proof majority that can sustain legislation that might stop the deal. Such was the case when he declined the invitations of Senators Durbin and Feinstein to meet separately and privately with Democratic senators by using the preposterous claim that it is this, rather than his collusion with Boehner on the invitation, that would damage bipartisan support for Israel.

Perhaps Netanyahu should travel to the Majlis in Tehran instead of Congress in Washington, given that Ayatollah Khamenei could be the last remaining obstacle preventing the agreement that Netanyahu describes as an existential threat. If Netanyahu were to lavishly praise the proposed agreement, the Iranians might be convinced of its faults and step away. But after he rains down fire and brimstone next Tuesday on Capitol, Hill, Tehran might very well conclude not only that this is indeed the deal of the century but also a once in a lifetime opportunity to widen the rift that Netanyahu has created between Israel and America to a historic rupture that will be very hard to heal.

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