What Bibi's 'Surprise' Visit Really Means

The reporting on the latest Obama-Netanyahu tiff has failed to explore a decisive geopolitical likelihood: Israel has calculated that Iran absolutely will not develop nuclear weapons during the remainder of the Obama administration. 

For those who closely follow the relationship between Israel and the United States, specifically the tumultuous rapport between Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and President Barack Obama, it was assumed that the “chickensh*t” fiasco this past October was the climax of the Obama administration’s frustrations with Netanyahu. This assumption was obliterated however when Netanyahu accepted an invitation this week from Speaker John Boehner to address a joint session of Congress without first notifying the State Department or the Obama administration. Presumably Netanyahu’s speech will stress the importance of new sanctions and continued U.S. pressure on Iran.

Both Obama and the State Department are, unsurprisingly, furious with Israel. This has resulted in the leaking of information suggesting that the head of the Mossad, Israel’s version of the CIA, had urged U.S. Senators to vote against new Iranian sanctions citing the progress of current U.S.-Iranian negotiations. Whether this Mossad/Netanyahu rift is true or fabricated, as was suggested recently by the Mossad, it is clear that Netanyahu has abandoned any hopes of a joint U.S.-Israel strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities while Obama remains in the Oval Office. This is a game-changer.

Netanyahu knows that Israel’s military capability only allows them to degrade but not eliminate the current Iranian nuclear program. The potential retaliation resulting from a unilateral strike could also be devastating to Israel. Hezbollah, despite being bogged down in Syria, has dramatically rearmed since its last war with Israel in 2006. Furthermore, Iranian generals recently indicated that they intend to shower Israel with Shahab missiles. No one should believe that this is an empty threat.

Unless Israel is certain that the Iranian bomb is imminent, the costs of a strike without the full support of the U.S. simply remain too high. 

All of this can only mean one thing; Netanyahu is willing to destroy what little goodwill is left with the Obama administration because he has the luxury of playing the long game. Nonetheless, Netanyahu didn’t have to accept Boehner’s invitation in a way that aggressively undermined Obama and the State Department. The question remains, why?

Obama’s recent public promise to veto any new sanctions on Iran before the negotiation deadline in July set the stage for the Netanyahu-Obama death-spiral. Israel has, for nearly a decade, declared the imminent threat of Iran’s nuclear weapon program. Obama’s decision to dismiss any new sanctions outright is the equivalent of declaring Israel “the boy who cried wolf.” Just like in the story, we should not doubt Iran’s intentions, rather we must recognize the likely truth insinuated in Obama’s strategy: Iran is not about to go nuclear.  

Needless to say, Netanyahu has moved on in search of a brighter tomorrow. His invitation to speak to Congress is nothing short of a strategy to identify and ultimately cultivate Israel’s friends in 2016.

The more progressive elements of the Democratic Party, who also tend to be Obama’s most vocal supporters, have trended against policies supporting Israel under his presidency. Whether this stance has gained roots in the halls of Congress is less transparent. By nuking his relationship with Obama, Netanyahu is forcing potential 2016 Democratic candidates to take a clear position on Israel. Are you with Obama or us?

While it is likely that Hillary Clinton will revel in this opportunity to differentiate her foreign policy from Obama on Israel, it is less clear how Elizabeth Warren for example, might approach this distinct divide. Either way, the next two months will be of historic importance in determining whether Israel remains a truly bipartisan issue or whether Democratic support is fading. 

Thankfully, history has given us an easy way of predicting if Israel has catapulted itself into partisanship -- the standing ovation. In 2011, during Obama’s State of the Union address, he received 25 bipartisan standing ovations. That same year, Netanyahu received 29 such standing ovations.

If Netanyahu gets congress to rise up from their chairs in March more than they did for Obama last Tuesday, Israel need not worry about the veracity of any partisan trending or its future cooperation with the next U.S. president—republican or democrat.

Ayal Feinberg is a Ph.D. Student, University of North Texas,Ragonis Scholar, Willingham Peace Scholar, Tate Scholar

The reporting on the latest Obama-Netanyahu tiff has failed to explore a decisive geopolitical likelihood: Israel has calculated that Iran absolutely will not develop nuclear weapons during the remainder of the Obama administration. 

For those who closely follow the relationship between Israel and the United States, specifically the tumultuous rapport between Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and President Barack Obama, it was assumed that the “chickensh*t” fiasco this past October was the climax of the Obama administration’s frustrations with Netanyahu. This assumption was obliterated however when Netanyahu accepted an invitation this week from Speaker John Boehner to address a joint session of Congress without first notifying the State Department or the Obama administration. Presumably Netanyahu’s speech will stress the importance of new sanctions and continued U.S. pressure on Iran.

Both Obama and the State Department are, unsurprisingly, furious with Israel. This has resulted in the leaking of information suggesting that the head of the Mossad, Israel’s version of the CIA, had urged U.S. Senators to vote against new Iranian sanctions citing the progress of current U.S.-Iranian negotiations. Whether this Mossad/Netanyahu rift is true or fabricated, as was suggested recently by the Mossad, it is clear that Netanyahu has abandoned any hopes of a joint U.S.-Israel strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities while Obama remains in the Oval Office. This is a game-changer.

Netanyahu knows that Israel’s military capability only allows them to degrade but not eliminate the current Iranian nuclear program. The potential retaliation resulting from a unilateral strike could also be devastating to Israel. Hezbollah, despite being bogged down in Syria, has dramatically rearmed since its last war with Israel in 2006. Furthermore, Iranian generals recently indicated that they intend to shower Israel with Shahab missiles. No one should believe that this is an empty threat.

Unless Israel is certain that the Iranian bomb is imminent, the costs of a strike without the full support of the U.S. simply remain too high. 

All of this can only mean one thing; Netanyahu is willing to destroy what little goodwill is left with the Obama administration because he has the luxury of playing the long game. Nonetheless, Netanyahu didn’t have to accept Boehner’s invitation in a way that aggressively undermined Obama and the State Department. The question remains, why?

Obama’s recent public promise to veto any new sanctions on Iran before the negotiation deadline in July set the stage for the Netanyahu-Obama death-spiral. Israel has, for nearly a decade, declared the imminent threat of Iran’s nuclear weapon program. Obama’s decision to dismiss any new sanctions outright is the equivalent of declaring Israel “the boy who cried wolf.” Just like in the story, we should not doubt Iran’s intentions, rather we must recognize the likely truth insinuated in Obama’s strategy: Iran is not about to go nuclear.  

Needless to say, Netanyahu has moved on in search of a brighter tomorrow. His invitation to speak to Congress is nothing short of a strategy to identify and ultimately cultivate Israel’s friends in 2016.

The more progressive elements of the Democratic Party, who also tend to be Obama’s most vocal supporters, have trended against policies supporting Israel under his presidency. Whether this stance has gained roots in the halls of Congress is less transparent. By nuking his relationship with Obama, Netanyahu is forcing potential 2016 Democratic candidates to take a clear position on Israel. Are you with Obama or us?

While it is likely that Hillary Clinton will revel in this opportunity to differentiate her foreign policy from Obama on Israel, it is less clear how Elizabeth Warren for example, might approach this distinct divide. Either way, the next two months will be of historic importance in determining whether Israel remains a truly bipartisan issue or whether Democratic support is fading. 

Thankfully, history has given us an easy way of predicting if Israel has catapulted itself into partisanship -- the standing ovation. In 2011, during Obama’s State of the Union address, he received 25 bipartisan standing ovations. That same year, Netanyahu received 29 such standing ovations.

If Netanyahu gets congress to rise up from their chairs in March more than they did for Obama last Tuesday, Israel need not worry about the veracity of any partisan trending or its future cooperation with the next U.S. president—republican or democrat.

Ayal Feinberg is a Ph.D. Student, University of North Texas,Ragonis Scholar, Willingham Peace Scholar, Tate Scholar