Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appointed himself commander-in-chief of the all-out war he is waging against U.S. President Barack Obama, who is the driving force behind the dialogue with Iran and the Vienna agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. In about two months, the Senate is supposed to vote on the agreement. Its vote doesn’t bind the five other countries that signed the deal, nor does it bind the United Nations, the European Union or the International Atomic Energy Agency. This is an in-house game between two groups within America, with a nod toward the presidential and congressional elections that will take place in another 15 months.
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The most desirable outcome for the Republican Party is for a majority of the Senate to vote against Obama, but a very specific majority – more than half, but less than two-thirds. That way, the president could veto the decision and the Senate would be unable to override it. Thus Republicans would be able to claim that the majority agrees with them, and that Obama is ignoring the wishes of the people and their elected representatives, without risking the fallout to be expected if the United States withdraws from the agreement, regardless of whether or not the other signatories and Iran remain committed to it.
To achieve this desired outcome, the Republicans need some support from Democrats. On that side of the aisle, too, the calculations are political, and not necessarily strategic: how to be viewed as backing the Israeli government’s position and thereby curry favor with its American Jewish supporters – and especially American Jewish campaign donors – without granting the Republicans a clear victory over the Democratic president, which would have destructive consequences for the 2016 elections.
Even though Netanyahu was burned by his crude intervention against Obama in the 2012 elections, his confrontational speech to Congress earlier this year, and his appointment of Republican activist Ron Dermer as Israel’s ambassador to Washington – later becoming persona non grata at the White House – the prime minister is continuing his campaign of incitement against Obama over the Iranian issue. Netanyahu is meeting with congressmen and, in the spirit of his patron Sheldon Adelson, pressuring Jewish community leaders who rely on donations to work against the president. Thus he, a foreign politician, has become the lead whip of both American parties against the president.
Netanyahu is supposed to address American Jewish communities later this week via video screens set up in synagogues around the country. In this address, he will ask American Jews to put Israel’s interests above American interests, and will thereby create a rift between American Jews and the administration. Netanyahu is shaking the dome of the Capitol and voicing a Samsonesque plea to “let me die with the Congress,” without considering the disastrous consequences his aggressive campaign will have on U.S.-Israel relations and the American Jewish community.
Counter-efforts by organizations like J Street, which support the agreement, are of necessity more modest. But it’s important for Washington to know that many Israelis object to Netanyahu’s maneuvers. We must remind everyone over and over that Netanyahu isn’t Israel.