+972 Magazine's Stories of the Week

Directly In Your Inbox

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

The political brilliance of Netanyahu's Congress speech

Whether or not Israel faces consequences for his diplomatic strong-arming, the Israeli prime minister will have accomplished the only two things that matter to him: trying one last time to kill an Iran nuclear deal and convincing Israeli voters that he is the only one who knows how to ensure their survival.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress, May 24, 2011. (Photo by Avi Ohayun/GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress, May 24, 2011. (Photo by Avi Ohayun/GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s maneuver to give a pre-election speech to a joint session of Congress is politically brilliant. Within the bounds of his political considerations, Netanyahu can’t lose, even if the political blowback and diplomatic consequences continue to snowball.

It’s easy to forget but there is only one issue that Netanyahu truly cares about, one to which everything else — from the Palestinian peace process to free trade deals to domestic social and societal issues to diplomatic relations — takes a back seat: Iran.

The prime minister fashions himself the savior of the Jewish people and in his mind, the number one threat to the survival of his people is the Islamic Republic of Iran. That attitude endears him to a significant portion of the Israeli electorate — even if he’s inadequate in every other realm of political interest. He sows fear about the crazy people in Tehran and then positions himself as the only person crazy enough to stop them.

He is the strongman. He foresees danger. He will not be stopped by anything.

And that’s the image that he will strengthen by going to Congress and giving the most impassioned speech he’s ever given about the dangers of Iran’s nuclear program and U.S. President Obama’s naïveté for negotiating with “the Ayatollahs.”

Read +972’s full election coverage here

Netanyahu’s stubborn and undiplomatic efforts to derail American-led nuclear talks with Iran by coopting the Republican Congress perfectly fits the image he so carefully fosters back home, especially if he faces consequences for it — that he will burn every bridge he has to cross if it means saving the Jewish people.

And if it doesn’t work?

Even if Netanyahu doesn’t manage to stop an already unlikely P5+1 deal with Iran, even if he can’t secure sanctions that bring us closer to war, he will still have won. Netanyahu will have rallied the Republican Party around his cause. That same Republican Party will be his ally for the next two years, especially as it readies itself to become the most formidable obstacle to Obama’s foreign policy, specifically vis-à-vis Iran and Israel.

Speaker Boehner holds a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Congressional leaders following his address to a joint meeting of Congress. May 24, 2011. (Speaker Boehner / CC-BY NY 2.0)

Speaker Boehner holds a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Congressional leaders following his address to a joint meeting of Congress. May 24, 2011. (Speaker Boehner / CC-BY NY 2.0)

And what about insulting the White House and State Department and harming the most important diplomatic relationship Israel has? Won’t that seriously endanger Netanyahu’s country and its international standing?

He still wins.

The Israeli prime minister has no long game. Ties with the White House are not strategic to him, they are tactical and his goals are limited.

Netanyahu once bragged about knowing how to manipulate the American political system in his favor. “I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won’t get in our way,” he said.

The Congress speech is his move. This is what his Israeli voters expect of him. It’s the Israeli way: if your first tactic doesn’t work, try a new one, then a new one, then a new one. And the end almost always justifies the means.

He has to try. He has to show his voters that he’s doing everything in his power to stop the apocalypse of which he so consistently forewarns.

The progressive pro-Israel Left in Washington is urging the Israeli prime minister to delay his speech until after Israeli elections. That won’t happen. What happens after the elections doesn’t matter to Netanyahu — the only things that matter are showing that he did everything in his power to stop a “bad Iran deal” and getting himself re-elected.

Even if he isn’t reelected, nobody ever truly retires from Israeli politics — and this stunt would be the perfect foundation for a comeback campaign.

Related:
Netanyahu isn’t the only one using int’l influence for election gains
[WATCH ]Street Talk: Things are bad, but still voting Bibi
What do you call a politician who promises more war?

Read this post in Hebrew here on our sister site, Local Call.

Special Coverage: 2015 Elections

Before you go...

A lot of work goes into creating articles like the one you just read. And while we don’t do this for the money, even our model of non-profit, independent journalism has bills to pay.

+972 Magazine is owned by our bloggers and journalists, who are driven by passion and dedication to the causes we cover. But we still need to pay for editing, photography, translation, web design and servers, legal services, and more.

As an independent journalism outlet we aren’t beholden to any outside interests. In order to safeguard that independence voice, we are proud to count you, our readers, as our most important supporters. If each of our readers becomes a supporter of our work, +972 Magazine will remain a strong, independent, and sustainable force helping drive the discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.

Support independent journalism in Israel/Palestine Donate to +972 Magazine today
View article: AAA
Share article
Print article
  • LEAVE A COMMENT

    * Required

    COMMENTS

    1. viktor arajs

      I favor Iran to have nuclear weapons
      1) A nuclear Iran would be a deterrent to the US intervening in the Middle East.
      2) We can subcontract our war on ISIS to Iran
      3) We can get Iran to enforce UN resolutions on Israel without alienating Jewish donors to the Democratic Party

      Reply to Comment
      • spktruth

        How bout we demand Israel DECLARE their nukes, send the IAEA in to verify…Israel does a great PR campaign against Iran ranting they have nukes, when 16 of US intell agencies say they do not. Who you gonna believe….wacko bibi, or our own intell agencies.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Bryan

      Michael – what an unsympathetic portrait of a great leader – you make Bibi seem like a power-hungry, crazed, psychopath going to any possible length to impose his personal nightmare on Israel, America and the world, and utterly incapable of compromise or diplomatic dialogue.

      Reply to Comment
      • Lo

        “…make Bibi seem like a power-hungry, crazed, psychopath going to any possible length to impose his personal nightmare on Israel, America and the world, and utterly incapable of compromise or diplomatic dialogue.”

        That’s a pretty good summarization of Mr. Netanyahu’s career since the late 80s.

        Reply to Comment
        • Sarah

          Exactly.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Jessica Montell

      I read events completely differently. If what Netanyahu cares about is Iran, he just sabotaged a bi-partisan sanctions bill with enough Democratic support to overcome a Presidential veto. Democrats are so mad he snubbed the President they’ve pulled support for legislation right now.
      Also regarding his domestic Israeli support: mainstream Israelis must be concerned about this deterioration in relations with the U.S. administration. Most of us understand this to be an existential Israeli threat, no?

      Reply to Comment
      • Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man

        I don’t think there would’ve been enough time to work the veto option before elections.

        And regarding mainstream Israelis, he doesn’t need them. He just needs 20-ish percent of voters in order to win…

        Reply to Comment
    4. Mikesailor

      I would agree with the writer that there are enough stupid nationalist Zionists in Israel to give Netanyahu enough support that he may very well be the next PM. The status quo is fine with many Israelis which is why a serious discussion of Israeli problems has been “verboten”. For any real discussion would mean another of the interminable discussions of Zionism: What it means in the twenty-first century, should it be changed from an expansionist, racist and xenophobic ideology and if so, how? But to me the fun part is watching the US Congress scramble. They realize that the last Bibi show didn’t play so well with their constituents who are wondering who they really represent: Israel or the US. The Democrats would be wise to boycott this Bibi campaign event but with a Democratic Party chairwoman who is Jewish, and major senators (like Charles “Israel First” Shumer)who are trying to “enforce” attendance, only the truly tone deaf would not think of Dual Loyalty when they show up to support Bibi over Obama. Representative John Lewis has announced he won’t show. Nether will the head of the Congressional Black Caucus. And I dare say that VP Biden will also be conspicuous by his absence. This will only accelerate the departure of the Democrats from the knee-jerk support of Israel, a process among the rank-and-file which is already underway. It will prove interesting because Israel and its political support will lose no matter what.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Reuven Kaminer

      The writer marshalled all the facts to support his thesis. But the picture is a bit more complex. It is wrong to say that Bibi is in a win win situation. He is by temperament and policies an adventurist so he is willing to endanger his and Israel’s positive position with Obama and the Democratic party. He can win and he can lose.

      Reply to Comment