Dueling Column: Netanyahu’s visit did more harm than good

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Stephanie Piedrahita | Opinion Director


The recent visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gained the attention of U.S. government officials, but not in the way he had hoped. His motive was to address Congress about Iran and how recent diplomatic talks with the country will not reduce the threat of nuclear warfare. With elections happening merely weeks from now in Israel, the White House reports that President Obama refuses to meet with Netanyahu during his unapproved visit to prevent him from using the interaction to gain influence within his political campaign. It is too much of a coincidence that the Prime Minister visits the U.S. during this timeframe and it comes off as a power move to show voters that he could take on foreign policy without fear. A recent Times of Israel article and his opponent Isaac Herzog warned the Prime Minister not to make the visit since it would cause “strategic damage to Israel’s standing and to the relationship with the United States”.

These fears were confirmed when House Speaker John Boehner broke diplomatic protocol by inviting Netanyahu without first consulting with the White House in an effort to further undermine Obama’s administration. Republicans support Netanyahu and advocate for heavier sanctions in Iran so it’s no surprise that they invited the Prime Minister in January to further challenge how the President handles foreign policy. For someone who meant to no disrespect to our president, Netanyahu still accepted the invitation knowing it would create more problems internally and therefore challenging it’s strongest international supporter. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic Leader, said this visit was “an insult to the intelligence of the United States” and said she was “saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran”. According to Reuters, 60 of 234 of the Democratic members of congress were not present in order to boycott this embarrassing political tactic but offered a separate meeting to discuss the deal with the Prime Minister who surprisingly refused. When it comes to politics, actions will always have more weight than simple words.

This is especially true when we realize that the Prime Minister’s speech happened at the same time Secretary of State John Kerry is in Geneva to discuss a deal with the Iranian Foreign Minister which limits Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy. Iran has said that it’s involvement with nuclear energy is to produce electricity-like every other country that has similar programs-and are open to speaking about regulations and checks that would be put into place to ensure that no nuclear weapons were being developed. The fact is, if there is no deal then the nuclear program will still work to it’s full capacity and the “future” Netanyahu fears will only happen faster.

It shows that Netanyahu has no trust in our President and has taken it upon himself to interfere and potentially sabotage any progress made even though Obama agrees Iran shouldn’t have nuclear weapons. As he said in his speech, “we’re better off without [the deal]”.

So having flown all the to the United States, you would hope that Netanyahu would bring something more than this political theater spectacle but if you look over the transcript of his speech you’ll find he provides no clear alternatives. Former U.S. Ambassador of Israel Martin Indyk who had worked with Netanyahu in the past said “The prime minister should say not only what is wrong with the deal, but how to get from where we are today to a deal that he could accept.” Aside from this, Israel is developing a counter plan by secretly meeting with Saudi Arabia and planning an attack if it falls through according to The Sunday Times in Britain. Additionally, Israel is believed to have possession of nuclear power with over 80-100 nuclear warheads, with fissile material (the key element for making nuclear weapons) for an additional 200 ever since U.S. intelligence discovered it’s first nuclear facility in 1960. This means even if Iran had time to develop a nuclear weapon, Israel already has a strong enough military presence and over $20 billion in U.S. aid to be able to combat this threat and it deters Iran from beginning a war it would lose almost immediately. Netanyahu comes to the United States to speak about peace but has only hurt himself and his people by antagonizing his supporters and enemies. When it comes to the delicate situation in the Middle East, the path of peace is indeed the road less travelled and the Prime Minister needs to place more trust in U.S. and these negotiations before he starts making demands of his own.

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