A group of former high-ranking officers and commanders in the IDF formed a united front on Sunday against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming controversial speech to the US Congress, saying the event would damage ties with America to the point of seriously threatening Israel’s security.
The group Commanders for Israel’s Security, which describes itself as a nonpartisan body of more than 200 retired officers, held a press conference in Tel Aviv shortly after Netanyahu left for Washington Sunday morning.
The group’s director general Amnon Reshef slammed Netanyahu for what he charged were destructive diplomatic policies.
“We decided that we need to publicly give our opinion — that the prime minister’s current policy is destroying the covenant with the United States,” Reshef said. “The way to stop a nuclear Iran is by strengthening ties between countries, between the US and Israel, between Israel an the international community. You can’t hide the divide with the Americans and we can’t be complacent about it. We believe that this thing is a clear and present danger to the security of Israel.”
“Anyone who pokes a finger in the eye of the president of the United States will find it very hard to reach any kind of understanding with him,” said Amos Yaron, a former director-general of the Defense Ministry. “To my regret, the prime minister has introduced politics into the matter, and he will now fail at anything he tries to do with the Americans.”
“It is likely that Israeli citizens will draw the correct conclusion — change the prime minister,” Yaron added.
Former IDF Northern Commander chief Amiram Levine also expressed his misgivings about the trip to Washington, despite, he said, his acquaintance with the prime minister stretching back to the latter’s earliest military days.
“I was his commander, I drafted him into the Sayeret Matkal [elite commando unit, directly administered by the IDF chief of staff], I taught him how to navigate, and I tell him now — Bibi you are navigating incorrectly. The target is Tehran, not Washington,” Levine said.
Netanyahu accepted an invitation from Republican House Speaker John Boehner to speak to Congress, who bypassed the White House in extending the invitation.
The prime minister left for the US on Sunday, declaring at the airport that he was “going to Washington on a fateful, even historic, mission.”
During Netanyahu’s controversial 48-hour visit he will address a joint session of Congress in a bid to garner last-minute support for a halt to an emerging deal with Iran over its nuclear program. The move has infuriated the White House and some Democratic lawmakers.
The upcoming speech is openly opposed by the Obama administration, some Democratic legislators — several dozen of whom have said they will not attend — and many within the US Jewish community. American lawmakers charged that the invitation to address Congress disregarded diplomatic protocol and was an attempt by Netanyahu to derail the US-brokered nuclear negotiations with Iran, Obama’s signature foreign policy objective.
Netanyahu’s speech is controversial because it puts Israel on a collision course with the Obama administration as it negotiates with Iran over its nuclear program — talks that in their current form could lead to a deal that potentially poses an existential risk to Israel, Netanyahu has warned. Thus, he intends to argue before Congress that the international community should increase its pressure on Iran, rather than ease sanctions against it under the reported terms of the emerging nuclear deal.
The speech is also set just two weeks before the prime minister faces elections back home, a fact that critics in Israel and the US have seized on to accuse Netanyahu of seeking to drum up support for his Likud party.