The New York Times on Saturday panned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his decision to bypass US President Barack Obama and arrange to address Congress directly on Iran’s nuclear program, accusing the Israeli leader of playing politics with the Iranian issue and using brash moves for internal political gains.
In its editorial, the American newspaper called House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation, and Netanyahu’s subsequent acceptance, “a breach of sense and diplomacy.”
The piece notes that Netanyahu’s early March address – in which he is expected to speak out against Obama’s efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran — is scheduled for two weeks before the Israeli elections. It speculates that the premier “believes that winning the applause of Congress by rebuking Mr. Obama will bolster his standing as a leader capable of keeping Israel safe.”
The editorial characterizes Netanyahu’s move as “a hostile attempt to lobby Congress to enact more sanctions against Iran.
“It’s hard to see how disrespecting an American president… can benefit his country,” the paper notes. Noting the continuous deterioration of the Israeli-American relationship in recent years, the editorial wonders if Israel can afford to lose its allies in Washington.
On Friday evening US officials reportedly charged that it will be “hard to trust” Netanyahu again, after he failed to coordinate his address to Congress with the White House.
“It will be difficult to trust Netanyahu in the future,” unnamed senior US officials told Channel 2. “At a critical juncture that requires close cooperation on strategic matters, he preferred to advance his political interests while disrupting the correct working relationship” between the two governments.
Senior Israeli sources told Channel 2 in response that given “the deep disagreements between Israel and the US” on the Iranian nuclear talks, Netanyahu felt that “he must present his stance even if that doesn’t suit Obama. This is a matter of substance.” The sources charged that the US was proving “worryingly” willing to over-compromise in the nuclear talks.
The Israeli sources further said that the US administration was taking advantage of the Israeli election season to seal a deal with Iran, and that this move must be opposed, Channel 2 reported. The fear in Jerusalem is that a US-led deal with Iran “is weeks away,” the TV report said.
The Israeli leader is expected to urge lawmakers to slap Tehran with a new round of tougher sanctions in order to force it to comply with international demands. The Mossad intelligence service on Thursday went to the rare length of issuing a press statement to deny claims, cited by US Secretary of State Kerry, that its chief Tamir Pardo had told visiting US politicians that he opposed further sanctions.
Haaretz reported that Obama had personally demanded that Netanyahu tone down his pro-sanctions rhetoric in a phone call between the two last week. The president has said a sanctions bill would cripple negotiations with Iranian leaders at a critical stage, and has threatened to veto such a bill should it come through.
Earlier Friday, American officials reportedly told Haaretz that Netanyahu had “spat” in Obama’s face in agreeing to speak to Congress without alerting the White House.
“We thought we’ve seen everything,” the newspaper quoted an unnamed senior US official as saying. “But Bibi managed to surprise even us.
“There are things you simply don’t do. He spat in our face publicly and that’s no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price,” he said.
Obama and Kerry have already indicated that they will not meet with Netanyahu during his US visit.
The Washington Post reported Friday that Netanyahu’s apparent disrespect for the US leadership was particularly offensive to Secretary of State John Kerry, who over the past month had made frenzied efforts on Israel’s behalf on the world stage — making dozens of calls to world leaders to convince them to oppose a UN Security Council resolution which would have set a timeframe for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
On the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Kerry told Israel Radio at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland Friday that it was unlikely to resume before the March elections. He did state however the the US continues to make efforts to get the sides talking.
AP and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.