At 11 a.m. on Tuesday morning, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the U.S. Congress. Where was U.S. President Barack Obama? Answer: not invited.
The event that took place is rather unconventional, as generally when two nations are forging diplomatic relations, the premiers of each convene as a public spectacle and to have an administrative planning meeting. However, Tuesday’s happenings in Washington, D.C. did not nearly resemble a standard meeting of two heads of state.
Upon the realization of how novel this event in Congress was, a few questions arise surrounding the motives of Netanyahu.
Why did Netanyahu circumvent the customary meeting with Obama?
Perhaps Netanyahu is just trying to be efficient. In looking at past foreign relations incidents of Obama’s administration, it seems that Obama’s leadership in this sector of governing has not been so strong. In dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin, there was only an ambiguous plan of action against the aggression of pro-Russia rebel forces in Ukraine. The sanctions imposed on Russia did not really put any pressure on Putin to change his policies for dealing with Ukraine. With an onslaught of terror activity brought on by ISIS, Obama has failed to call incidents — including the Charlie Hebdo murders and hostage situation as well as video footage of executed civilians — actual acts of terror. Instead, Obama has used rhetorical euphemisms that soften the impression of just how threatening ISIS is to the United States and the rest of the world. Because Obama’s leadership in making effective foreign policy statements and actions seems to be lacking, it is possible that Netanyahu does not want to waste his own time by engaging in diplomatic talks that do seldom to actually improve U.S.-Israel relations.
Another possibility is that the Prime Minister of Israel wanted to speak directly with the members of Congress who have a direct impact on the formulation and ratification of foreign policy measures. According to the U.S. Constitution, the Senate is authorized to make treaties, which are the foundation of foreign policy and international relations. Thus, Netanyahu may have wanted to ensure that Congressmen and women are aware of their foreign policy-making powers, and to confirm that Obama would not attempt to sign a treaty with Iran without first receiving congressional approval. If Netanyahu could convince the active Congress members to reject relations with Iran, perhaps Israel’s own relations with the United States could grow stronger.
How did his speech to Congress concern pending U.S. relations with Iran?
The Israeli prime minister challenged the United States’ pending foreign policy agreement with Iran, saying that compromising with Iran over maintaining its current levels of nuclear weaponry is “very bad.” This is because he believes that this will not take away the Islamic republic’s ability to obtain necessary amounts of nuclear weapons if needed. This statement does make sense in the sense that as a nation in an area of many Islamic states, Iran has strong ties to the states in this region, probably stronger than those the United States is trying to forge. Thus, if Iran decided to use nuclear weapons, those developed in other Islamic states may be readily available to it, regardless of its treaty with the United States.
Why exactly does this all affect Israel? Israel is such a tiny nation in the middle of a relatively large region of Islamic states. Netanyahu noted that he has a “profound obligation” to bring up just how dangerous countries like Iran are to Israel’s ultimate existence. “Iran’s supreme leader … spews the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism with the newest technology,” Netanyahu said. “He tweets that Israel must be … destroyed.”
If the United States follows through with its treaty with Iran, Netanyahu essentially posited that Israel would be faced with more aggression and threatened with obliteration, especially as nuclear weapons are involved.
Does this have anything to do with Israel’s upcoming presidential election?
Israel’s next prime ministerial election is coming up on March 17. And yes, Netanyahu is running. Although the previously outlined reasons for Netanyahu’s visit to Congress are all likely and viable, perhaps this is a last-minute strategy to attempt to solidify the incumbent prime minister’s successes with foreign policy. If Netanyahu can secure U.S.-Israel relations while preventing a potential treaty with Iran, this move just may help him get re-elected. Since he has so little time before the election, the previous argument about not wasting time with ineffective diplomatic “chats” is his mode of operation. Currently, the United States and Israel are strong allies, and maintaining this position for Israel is a big piece in the puzzle of stability in a highly unstable region of the world. These are not illegitimate or underhanded reasons for Netanyahu to appeal to Congress, but they may explain the true reasons for his urgency and unconventionality.