Obama fuming at Netanyahu invitation to Congress, plans retaliation
“Netanyahu spat in our face. There will be a price.” With these words, an unnamed Obama administration official declared war on Israel’s prime minister in an interview with the left0wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Smarting at being blindsided by the invitation to address a joint session of Congress and advocate a sanctions bill on Iran to kick in if the current round of negotiations fails, Obama is letting his anti-Israel feelings show more openly than ever before.
Haaretz also reports that Obama has been warning Netanyahu for ten days to not lobby Congress on the bipartisan sanctions bill:
U.S. President Barack Obama has demanded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stop encouraging U.S. senators and congressmen to advance new sanctions legislation against Iran.
A senior American official, who asked to remain anonymous due to the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, said Obama gave Netanyahu this message during a telephone call on Monday, January 12.
There is obviously no principle, only political convenience behind this demand, since Obama stood by as British PM Cameron announced to the world that he was lobbying U.S. senators on the same bill, only in the opposite direction.
The date for Netanyahu’s speech has been pushed back to Match 3 instead of February 11. That will enable Netanyahu to speak on the same trip to the annual gathering of AIPAC, the America Israel Public Affairs Committee, something he does every year. AIPAC is a fundraising powerhouse and has been bipartisan for its entire history. However, the recent trend of Obama administration hostility to Israel and its philo-Islamic stances has begin to put strains on this orientation. AIPAC and Israel rightly fear that if Israel becomes a partisan issue, then it will be in danger every time a Democrat is elected to the presidency or Democrats control Congress.
The delay in Netanyahu’s speech also has two political consequences. It will make the speech much closer to the time the sanctions bill comes to a vote, and it will make the speech occur just two weeks before Israeli elections. The Obama administration is using that second proximity as an excuse to snub a meeting with Netanyahu during his visit. The Jerusalem Post reports:
“As a matter of long-standing practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said Thursday.
US Secretary of State John Kerry would also not hold talks with Netanyahu, the State Department said.
For his part, Kerry is following the Obama line loyally, but incoherently. The Washington Post reports:
“The bilateral relationship is unshakable,” said a source close to Kerry. “But playing politics with that relationship could blunt Secretary Kerry’s enthusiasm for being Israel’s primary defender.”
So the relationship is unshakable, but it has just been shaken. “Blunt enthusiasm for being Israel’s primary defender” certainly sounds like a threat.
In appearing to side with the mullahs and against Israel, Obama is taking a very risky stance. He does not have to face voters again, but congressional Democrats do. If, as appears likely, Congress faces a vote to override his veto of the sanctions bill, this current round of huffiness will not help him round up votes.
The usual leftist suspects are criticizing Netanyahu as the party responsible for the deterioration in U.S.-Israel relations. Reuters (no friend of Israel) reports:
"These relations are the greatest strategic asset that Israel has had since its establishment," former diplomat Alon Pinkas wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's leading [according to Reuters, not according to circulation – TL] daily.
"Netanyahu has harmed, weakened and finally destroyed the interpersonal channel (with the US president) and created an unprecedented rift in the relations between president and prime minister."
But this ignores the hostility toward Israel that Obama brought with him into the presidency. Netanyahu is playing the cards that were dealt him.