Cross Talk

Attention Iran hard-liners: The enemy of your enemy is not your friend.

What does that mean? Simple: Even if you don’t approve of President Barack Obama’s approach in dealing with Iran, you shouldn’t support House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before Congress in early March.

There are at least three reasons this is so:

First, we have absolutely no idea who will win the Knesset elections slated for just a few days after the intended speech, and Bibi could have a secondary role in the government when the tallies are in. The uncertain landscape in Israel right now shows the wisdom of this U.S. administration’s general policy of avoiding meetings with state leaders immediately prior to elections in their nations.


Second, the approach is surely designed to undermine the Obama team’s approach on Iran, interfere with the ongoing negotiations and drive a wedge between Congress and the American people on one hand, and Obama on the other. Boehner defends the move by saying Bibi is an indispensable expert whom Congress must hear in assessing the situation; we’re utterly skeptical, however, that Boehner would say so if Bibi weren’t prime minister, which he might not be a couple weeks later.

Third, and most importantly, as it pertains to the central issue here, Iran, Boehner’s approach is not in any way, shape or form an intelligent one. It does not help either the U.S. or Israel.

Think about it. What can Boehner and Bibi accomplish in this exercise that would be advantageous to Israel’s safety and security? They aren’t changing the mind of the administration, of anyone in Congress (and there’s been plenty written about how Bibi’s appearance could push some legislators further away from Israel), or of America’s European partners in the P5+1 negotiations.

And while no one’s mind is changed, the incendiary nature of the invite is likely to diminish further the relationship between Israel and the White House. Maybe this appeals to Boehner and those in the Jewish community who are heavily invested in the success of Obama’s political opposition and its goals. It doesn’t appeal to us; U.S. support of Israel must never be partisan.

Moreover, on the substance of what’s best in combatting Iran, there’s virtually no assurance that the Boehner/Bibi tandem is right on the merits. Here’s what Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., said in a speech at an Israel Bonds dinner as reprinted in Tablet magazine:

The agreement that is being discussed today is not an agreement that would dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons capability, but rather one that could leave Iran as a nuclear threshold state.

That is an agreement that could endanger the very existence of the State of Israel.

Is it? Simply because Dermer and Bibi say so? How do we know that a lack of an agreement won’t lead to the same endangerment? We don’t. No one does. All we know is, as we said last week, right now there’s the prospect of negotiation, sanctions and military action. If negotiation falls off, there are only two options left, which in our opinion moves us closer to war.

The prime minister’s position is hardly universal. Michael Oren, Dermer’s predecessor who is running on the Kulanu slate headed by former Likudnik Moshe Kahlon, indicated that the Boehner gambit is counterproductive not only to Israeli-American relations, but to the success of efforts with Iran.

“The behavior over the last few days created the impression of a cynical political move, and it could hurt our attempts to act against Iran,” Oren told Ynet. “It’s advisable to cancel the speech to Congress so as not to cause a rift with the American government. Much responsibility and reasoned political behavior are needed to guard interests in the White House.”

Some have accused Oren of political opportunism, but why does Oren get labeled with that tag while Bibi and Dermer, in the height of election season, can freely exploit their pre-election position without cries of shameless politicking? And why must Boehner be complicit?

We have no idea if there will be an agreement or not, and there’s still support out there for something happening at the table. In fact, this week, Sen. Robert Menendez, D.-N.J., withdrew his support of the sanctions bill he and Sen. Mark Kirk, R.-Ill., submitted a couple weeks ago.

All we really care about in this context is a world unencumbered by threats from Iran. Some experts think a negotiated settlement is the best way and others do not. That’s fine. But a disagreement among interested and experienced experts is not a reason to deliberately undermine American process and perception. That’s a lesson Boehner should take to heart.