by Kathleen Taylor
With staunch Republican support and waning Democratic backing, Israel is attempting to turn the United States into a battleground of partisan politics and force President Obama to abandon the pending nuclear deal with Iran.
Historically, support for Israel was one of the few issues on which Democrats and Republicans agreed almost completely; however, now the poignant question in Washington is whether support for Israel has, in fact, become a partisan issue, especially considering the possibility that Israel may have lost the Democratic Party.
Speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner, invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak in a joint meeting of Congress in late January, without consulting the White House. Mr. Netanyahu jumped at the chance to explain to both chambers of Congress that the nuclear deal with Iran is a poor policy choice. He argued that the agreement would actually ensure Iran develops a nuclear weapon instead of preventing it from acquiring one. He told U.S. lawmakers that the United States should just walk away.
Through his speech, it is evident that Mr. Netanyahu’s worldview aligns closely with Republican foreign policy. The Israeli prime minister foolishly used the address to Congress as a way to get a message through to the White House, knowing it could damage relations with U.S. President Barack Obama. The Israeli leader determined the potential rift was worth it to achieve his ultimate goal: halting the Iran nuclear deal. By accepting the invitation and giving the address, Netanyahu tried, and continues to try, to exploit party differences and turn the United States into a battleground of partisan politics. Mr. Netanyahu is trying to divide the United States so that Mr. Obama has no other option but to to abandon the deal.
Mr. Netanyahu’s speech received an enthusiastic and welcome reaction from Republican lawmakers, causing one House Republican to exclaim, “Wooh, baby! That was awesome!” Many of the Congressional Republicans “wholeheartedly” agreed with Mr. Netanyahu’s critique, calling for further sanctions against Iran. Republicans have even criticized Mr. Obama’s response to Mr. Netanyahu’s reelection, saying that he is “letting his personal problems with Netanyahu get in the way of policy.” Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, “dinged” Obama on this topic, saying, “It is not about him, it’s not about the administration. This is about the mutual concern we have for Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.” Thus, Republicans remain adamant against Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon and have essentially endorsed the Israeli approach to the diplomatic talks.
Mr. Netanyahu’s speech “sparked backlash among Democrat lawmakers.” Mr. Obama, in accordance with most Democrats, has adopted a more hardline response to the speech and his reelection. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said Mr. Netanyahu’s address was a “breach of protocol” because it was not approved by the White House. Dianne Feinstein, a prominent Democrat and chair on the Select Committee of Intelligence, said she would oppose any legislation allowing Congress to vote down an agreement, while Nancy Pelosi called the speech “an insult to the intelligence of the United States.”
Further obscuring the speech and Mr. Netanyahu’s credibility among Democrats was his failure to discuss the Palestinian peace process, as noted by Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer. This is an issue that Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough has promised President Obama will not let fade into the background, since Mr. Netanyahu was quick to retract these statements as if he never said them.
President Obama and the Democrats seek to avoid further sanctions on Iran for fear they could scare Iran away from the negotiating table or provoke an unnecessary military confrontation. They also recognize that the Palestinian peace process is connected to the Iranian deal and partly responsible for worsening tensions between the United States and Israel. According to the president and his Democratic supporters, the solution is to continue talks with Iran. This is the only way of ensuring Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons.
The division within the U.S. government not only shows the internal division on an important foreign policy issue between the Democrats and Republicans, it also highlights the tensions between Israel and the United States. Democrats strive for a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a deal with Iran all while supporting Israel. Republicans, conversely, offer unconditional, sometimes blind, support of Israel and want to impose further, stiffer sanctions on Iran.
While the United States will always provide tacit, unwavering support to Israel, trust has been breached. Israel has used the address to Congress and U.S. partisan politics to its own advantage, and was willing to exploit the divide and risk its relationship with the United States in order to fulfill its ultimate objective: preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Ultimately, though, Iran will not be successful in achieving this goal as President Obama is intent on securing a diplomatic agreement with Iran on its nuclear program.
Kathleen Taylor is a staff writer for Charged Affairs with Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. She is based in the Washington, DC Metro Area
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of their employer or Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.