‘Netanyahu didn’t consult top aide on Congress speech’

National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen said to have learned of PM’s address hours before it was announced

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen at a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, September 2, 2014 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90, File)
National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen at a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, September 2, 2014 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90, File)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly did not consult his top security aide before accepting an invitation to address a joint session of Congress next month regarding the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran.

National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen learned that Netanyahu accepted an invitation by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to speak to US lawmakers hours before the official announcement was made in January, according to a report on the i24 News site Monday.

The move angered the Obama administration and US lawmakers, who charged that the invitation to address Congress on March 3 disregarded diplomatic protocol and was an attempt by Netanyahu to derail the US-brokered nuclear negotiations with Iran, Obama’s signature foreign policy objective.

As the head of the National Security Council, Cohen, a 30-year veteran of the Mossad intelligence agency, is tasked with the coordination of major diplomatic communications between Israel and foreign governments.

Relations between Jerusalem and Washington became increasingly strained after it emerged that Boehner had not cleared the invitation in advance with the White House or Democrats in Congress.

While Netanyahu has long been skeptical of the negotiations, his opposition has increased over what he sees as Obama’s willingness to make concessions that would leave Iran on the brink of being able to build a nuclear weapon. His opposition has intensified as negotiations shifted gears ahead of an end-of-March deadline for a framework deal. The contours of an emerging deal were reported by the Associated Press on Monday.

Several prominent US Jewish groups have called Netanyahu’s visit unwise, and a number of Democratic lawmakers have said they will boycott the speech.

The planned address comes just two weeks before Israeli elections, a fact that prompted numerous Israeli lawmakers to publicly call on the prime minister to either cancel or postpone the address until after the March 17 national elections.

However, despite the backlash, Netanyahu has remained determined to argue before Congress that international pressure on Iran should be increased, rather than the proposed easing of sanctions under the terms of the deal.

Netanyahu made plain he would go ahead with the address during a speech to American Jewish leaders last week, saying that a bad deal between world powers and Iran would endanger the existence of Israel and that it would irresponsible for him as prime minister to turn down an invitation to make his case to Congress.

His remarks came a day after the Obama administration said it was withholding key details of the ongoing negotiations from Israel over fears that Jerusalem had leaked sensitive information to try and undermine the talks.

Last week, Cohen visited Washington for talks with Obama’s senior Iran negotiator Wendy Sherman. US Secretary of State John Kerry made an unscheduled stop at their meeting, evidently to indicate that despite the lagging ties, communication between the two allies continued at senior levels.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report

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