Time will tell domestic, international impact of Netanyahu speech
March 06 2015 12:21 AM
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s divisive lecture on Iran’s nuclear programme to the US Congress may have played well for his hardline, mostly Republican allies and his supporters at home, but it is unclear if he has made any tangible gains.
The worry is now about whether his actions have caused a rift with the US Democratic party, an historic supporter of Israel, and what that means for Israel in the years ahead.
“I am not entirely certain anything positive will come out of it from Israel’s perspective or Netanyahu’s own narrow political perspective,” says Mark Heller, an analyst at the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies.
Netanyahu was invited to speak by the centre-right Republicans, who control the Congress, without White House approval.
That breach of etiquette - combined with the fact that many Democrats back the Iran nuclear talks that Netanyahu derided - have led to recriminations between Israel and the centre-left party.
Meir Javedanfar, an Israel-Iran analyst in Tel Aviv, questioned if Netanyahu had actually succeeded in changing any minds in the United States.
“The state of Israel has just taken a great risk by sidelining the president of America, for the sake of this speech,” Javedanfar noted, asking if any members of Congress would now vote differently on Iran.
Furthermore, Javedanfar points out that Tehran has yet to accept any deal, that negotiations are ongoing, and a result is only expected in the summer. If an agreement fails to materialise, “then all of this would have been for nothing.”
The Israeli opposition is worried that traditional bipartisan support for the Jewish state might be eroded by Netanyahu’s attacks on the administration and perceived siding with the Republicans.
Some critics of the Israeli government charged the prime minister was trying to score points ahead of an election in which his Likud party is likely to lose seats.
Despite its prominent platform, there is doubt the speech will increase the number of mandates his party receives, according to analysts. But the speech is unlikely to dent his support either.
“The speech is likely to play well at home and his re-election prospects will not have been harmed by today’s events,” said Daniel Levy at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
The address to Congress matches in ways Netanyahu’s election campaign, which is depicting his opponents as being soft on Iran and Israel’s security. His speech painted Obama in similar colours.
The Iranian issue, though, is more than just a nuclear programme. In his speech, Netanyahu urged the US to also consider the role Tehran plays in the region, such as support for groups like Hezbollah, an armed Shia movement in Lebanon.
“Netanyahu seemed to be preparing for a post-deal reality and demanding that Iran continue to be treated exclusively as a terror state,” said Levy.
Netanyahu’s hardline allies in the US might be the real winners here, as they become emboldened by the speech - at times, a point-by-point critique of US President Barack Obama’s handling of the nuclear negotiations - to bash the administration’s diplomatic approach.

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