Speaker Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress on March 3 has sparked a new crisis in US-Israeli relations. The Obama administration immediately expressed outrage regarding the speech, arguing that the Speaker disrupted long-standing diplomatic protocol by failing to consult the President before delivering the invitation. The Obama White House is particularly incensed given its disagreement with Netanyahu and Republicans over how to address Iran’s nuclear program. Obama fears the speech will offer Netanyahu a major forum to argue the futility of negotiations with Iran and push for greater sanctions. In his view, Netanyahu’s actions represent an unprecedented and inappropriate attempt to manipulate American politics. This charge is particularly hypocritical given the frequent attempts of Obama officials to influence Israeli politics. For example, many Obama Campaign advisors are now working to support the opposition party in Israeli’s elections. It seems unlikely that these officials would provide this assistance without the consent of their former boss.
In retaliation for these perceived slights, the Obama administration have responded by delivering threats towards the Prime Minister in the Israeli press. One Obama aide told an Israeli source, “Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price.” This supposed tough talk makes the President sound callow and insecure, especially because this administration goes out of its way to address the leaders in Tehran with far more respect. Ironically, this strategy has had the affect of boosting Netanyahu’s standing domestically in the polls, as most Israelis understandably harbor a great deal of distrust for Obama.
While this spectacle is unlikely to hurt Netanyahu within Israel, it has undermined bipartisan support for Israel in the United States. Many Congressional Democrats, traditionally supportive of Israel and friendly to Netanyahu, are threatening to boycott the speech in order to support the President and spare him from further embarrassment. Israeli leaders have long gone out of their way to ensure that support for Israel is not viewed as a partisan issue. A speech delivered by Netanyahu to only the Republicans in Congress would surely undermine this perception.
Why then would Speaker Boehner invite the Prime Minister without informing Obama, therefore damaging this important alliance? Many argue that this gambit was payback for Obama’s stated strategy of repeatedly circumventing congressional authority.
This fiasco is occurring at a time when Iran is only months away from nuclear weapons capabilities, ISIS controls vast areas In Iraq and Syria and the radical Islamist Houthis just conducted a successful coup in Yemen. US and Israeli cooperation is needed more than ever, yet our leaders in Washington are letting personal grievances get in the way of this critical relationship. Just another example of business as usual in Washington these past few years.