A brilliant piece of showmanship that won't change Obama's mind

March 05, 2015 12:36

It was a tale told by an incumbent. Full of sound and fury, signifying - votes.

Why else did Prime Minister Netanyahu travel 6,000 miles from the Middle East, in the middle of an election campaign, to give a speech he has given many times before, to an audience that has already heard it?

There was nothing new, even if it was a good speech, argued with conviction and with some excellent turns of phrase - "Game of Thrones… My enemies' enemy is my enemy". However, it does not change anything in the USA-Iran diplomatic dance.

The grand bargain between America and Iran will or won't be done, and Congress will or won't try to derail it, but that train had left the station, is still on the tracks, and nothing Mr Netanyahu said alters its course.

About 50 Democrats boycotted the speech and no one from Team Obama was present as Mr Netanyahu went over the head of the American President with a visit cooked up between himself and Republican House speaker John Boehner.

He warned that the US-Iran deal, as he saw it, would leave Iran within a few months of breakout capability (the ability to build nuclear weapons from current capacity). There was a veiled threat of military action to prevent this with the promise that "even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand".

Hyperbole abounded. Democrat Representative Jared Huffman went so far as to say: "This is a prime minister who's never seen a war he didn't want our country to fight."

So, was the speech, as US National Security Adviser Susan Rice put it, not only "unfortunate" for US-Israel relations but "destructive of the fabric of the relationship"? Hardly.

The ties that bind are strong enough that one speech barely loosens them. Yes the relationship between Mr Netanyahu and Barack Obama is in shreds, but it was already, before Bibi went to the Beltway. The relationship between two states is bigger than that between the two leaders.

Over the next few decades, the demographics of America, and the geopolitics of energy, will lead America to downgrade its relationship with Israel, but that moment has not arrived.

Israel has two understandable fears on Iran. One is a nuclear-armed Iran; the other is a hegemonic, malign Iran without a bomb but with a workable relationship with the USA.

Israel is trying to block either scenario, and a generous interpretation of the Netanyahu speech is that it was part of that work in progress. However, nothing new was ventured and everyone is familiar with the arguments.

Mr Netanyahu may be genuine in his conviction that he is a necessary siren voice in a sea of appeasement, but he is also a brilliant politician and master tactician and knows a good grandstand when he sees one.

March 05, 2015 12:36

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