Why Netanyahu Must Address Congress

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing a joint session of Congress in May 2011. He is right to visit Washington and speak out about the rumored Iranian nuclear deal.Credit: Reuters

The uproar over Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned address to Congress on March 3 – he will speak, he won’t speak, he must speak, he mustn’t speak – has obscured the main point, which is that the Israeli prime minister is right. U.S. President Barack Obama is determined to reach an agreement with the Iranians, and this agreement will be bad – bad for Israel, bad for the Middle East, bad for the world.

The prime minister sees this and asks himself, despairingly, how he can stop this urge by the American president to ensure his legacy, which will turn Iran into a nuclear threshold state. A regional power that already controls four Middle Eastern countries (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen) will now be armed with methods of persuasion that will be impossible to refuse. And who can guarantee that Saudi Arabia won’t be next in line? Who can guarantee that Hezbollah’s “Iron Dome” won’t be far more durable than ours?

The Israeli prime minister sees all this and says, “And you stand there looking on. With futile, folded arms.”

It’s important to remember that back when Iran wasn’t the focus of international attention, the Israeli prime minister rose up and warned about it. He cried and screamed so loudly that, finally, the world heard, and part of it even listened. It’s also important to remember that two or so years ago, when Obama was running for reelection, he invested great energy in the Iranian issue – not in an attempt to contain Iran, but an attempt to contain Israel: to ensure that Israel wouldn’t attack Iran, for fear that this might affect the outcome of the election.

Therefore, when we are allegedly less than two months away from the signing of a framework agreement between the six world powers and Iran, it’s only natural for the Israeli prime minister to try to kick and scream in order to halt what seems so terrible for Israel – certainly from where he sits, given his responsibility.

It’s true the Congress speech was organized incompetently – without informing the White House, without creating the necessary coalition with the Democrats – and today, it is seen in the United States as political rather than substantive. But essentially, the prime minister above all has a responsibility and obligation to prevent the emerging agreement.

He is the one who will bear primary responsibility, whether or not elections are being held. So now, the question is how to prevent the U.S. president from trying to ensure his legacy with a bad agreement that will be with us for many years to come, long after all the other leaders have been replaced.

The prime minister is right, but the hourglass is running out and the options for achieving the goal of preventing Iran from becoming a threshold state are narrowing. So all that’s left is to scream really, really loudly (though in light of the circumstances, I would give up on the congressional platform). And perhaps, just perhaps, someone will once again hear.

The author formerly served as counselor for political affairs at the Israeli embassy in Washington and as consul general in Los Angeles.