What did Bibis speech accomplish: For those willing to listen, PM nailed truth on Iran

Two Views: Poke-in-the-eye move blinds Netanyahu to the fallout

I have to confess that I was disappointed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 2 speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference. I felt that it was bland, packed with tired talking points, lacking in strategic direction and generally uninspiring.

Not so the following day with his speech to Congress, which was a barnstormer.

What Netanyahu proved definitively in Congress, which he didn’t do at the AIPAC meeting, is that the current deal the Obama administration is so keen to cut with Iran will result in the world’s principal sponsor of terrorism, and the main strategic threat to the entire Middle East, weaponizing its nuclear program.

What’s striking is that Netanyahu had to remind us of the nature of the Iranian regime in the first place. One of the problems with the current public discourse around Iran in this country is the tendency to normalize the regime, and to elide or ignore its fundamental violations of basic human rights. Iran even has its apologists, like the left-wing Jewish pundit Peter Beinart, who outright lied in a column for the Atlantic with his claim that “Iran isn’t doing truly reckless things like invading a Saudi ally in the Persian Gulf or launching chemical or biological weapons at Israel.”

Really? Iran now controls Yemen and, to an ever greater extent, Iraq. It is the main sponsor of Hezbollah. And it is the primary reason that the Assad regime in Syria, which has used chemical and biological weapons against its own populace, remains in power.

Now, I realize that for those like Beinart who believe the only human rights that matter are those of the Palestinians, arguments like those advanced by Netanyahu in Congress will never shake their predispositions. But for the rest of us, the reminder that Iran’s regime is fundamentally evil, in the same manner that Saddam Hussein’s regime was evil and the North Korean regime remains evil, is a welcome counterbalance attention back home when he speaks from a foreign capital. Look for Bibi to use pictures of his congressional appearance in his campaign commercials, just as in his previous election.

Speaking two weeks to the day before a very close election and facing a corruption investigation, Netanyahu wanted to show Israeli voters that he is courageous enough to stand up to an unpopular American president if that’s what it takes to protect his nation from the twin threats of nuclear attack from Iran and Palestinian statehood.

He should get a quick bump in the polls, and possibly even win re-election.

But picking this fight with Obama, and knowing that his speeches weren’t going to change a single vote in Congress on the Iran sanctions legislation he wants and the administration opposes (in fact, his deal with Boehner probably robbed them of a veto-proof majority they’d been expecting), Netanyahu may gain some personal political advantage at the expense of Israel’s national interest.

The broad bipartisan consensus of support for Israel in the Jewish community and among Americans at large has been damaged by Bibi’s latest plunge into partisan politics, and it may require a new Israeli leader to repair it.

Netanyahu’s declared goal in coming to Washington was to block a nuclear agreement with Iran. He is lobbying Congress for enactment of harsh new sanctions that he contends will bring Iran to its knees and an agreement on his terms, something all the international powers negotiating with Tehran say is not only unrealistic but counterproductive.

A more likely outcome, if he succeeds in scuttling the talks, is that the coalition will start to crumble and some partners, starting with Russia and China, will begin to relax the sanctions that brought Tehran to the table. A lot of other countries will follow, hoping to do business with the oil-rich Persians.

If the sanctions regime collapses, it will take down the key incentive for Iran to halt its nuclear program, and the Revolutionary Guard will build a monument in downtown Tehran to the man who made it possible: Bibi Netanyahu.

The U.S. administration has said, “The alternative to not having a deal is losing inspections, and an Iran ever closer to having the fissile material to manufacture a weapon.”

Another alternative is the last one Netanyahu should want: a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Dov Zakheim, a senior Pentagon official in the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, wrote in Foreign Policy that Netanyahu’s Washington trip has done more damage to Israel’s interests than Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “Netanyahu may already have damaged his cause beyond repair,” he wrote. “[W]hatever his personal feelings about President Obama, Netanyahu needs American support on a host of issues” far beyond Iranian nukes.

Netanyahu ignored the urging of nearly 200 former generals and commanders of all Israeli defense and intelligence agencies who warned that failure to cancel the speech would severely damage the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Netanyahu “subordinated Israel’s most crucial strategic interests to election considerations,” charged former Israeli deputy national security adviser Chuck Freilich.

Bibi must be a hero in Tehran, where a top adviser to President Hassan Rouhani said the Israeli leader’s Washington visit will “benefit Iran” because it will “further widen the existing gaps” between Israel and its supporters.

Way to go, Bibi.

Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for jns.org. His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications.