Analysis: Will Netanyahu Speech to Congress Fracture US-Israel Ties? – NBCNews.com
TEL AVIV, Israel — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu probably knew his decision to address Congress about Iran nuclear talks at the invitation of the GOP and without the White House’s approval would be controversial.
Did he know just how controversial it would be?
National Security Adviser Susan Rice has called Netanyahu’s plans “destructive to the fabric of the relationship.” Many leading Democrats have said they will not attend Tuesday’s speech, because Netanyahu is up for re-election on March 17. President Barack Obama has also declined to meet with the Israeli leader during his D.C. visit.
It has also raised fears in Israel that Netanyahu’s move could deeply damage the vital alliance. The U.S gives about $3 billion in aid to Israel annually.
“Ever since the creation of the State of Israel and the development of the bilateral relations it was always the policy of the government of Israel to make Israel a bipartisan issue — a wall-to-wall issue,” said Oded Eran, senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies, an Israeli think tank that deals with terrorism, security and military affairs.
“There is a danger now that this will be changed or perceived to be a partisan issue and I think it is unhealthy and very unfortunate,” he added.
Some worry that Netanyahu’s hard line could lead to anti-Israeli sentiment in the United States. Israel has depended on the U.S. vetoing anti-Israel resolutions in the United Nations, but analysts says it is now conceivable this could change.
Other aspects of the close relationship also stand to lose, Eran said.
“There could be other variations relating to the transfer of military equipment, sharing experiences in developing weapons and intelligence,” he said. “I hope [none of that] is affected.”
Israel has received $121 billion in aid from the U.S. since the end of World War II, making it the largest recipient of assistance in the world, according to an April 2014 Congressional report. Almost all of it is now military, although Israel has in the past gotten significant amount of economic assistance, it added.
Netanyahu is expected to issue a stern warning to the U.S. about signing a nuclear deal with Tehran, a government seen to be fundamentally untrustworthy and that could threaten the Israel’s very existence if it ever developed nuclear weapons.
“He really believes that this is his No. 1 mission, his No. 1 obligation and priority,” Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister for intelligence affairs and a close ally of the prime minister’s, told The Associated Press. “For Netanyahu it is in his bones.”
The prime minister’s combative approach will not help matters, however, and neither will his obvious personal dislike for Obama, according to Professor Reuven Hazan, the chair of the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“The lack of personal touch and warmth is becoming a major factor in the bilateral state relations,” Hazan said. “They really, really dislike each other.”
The two leaders have clashed on a variety of matters which has had an impact on the country’s strategic ties, he said. On top of the disagreement on Iran, the U.S. objects to Israel’s continued expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank and has grown frustrated at essentially moribund peace talks with the Palestinians.
This personal animosity makes it hard to rebuild trust, according to Hazan.
“Obama thinks that Netanyahu is blatantly lying to him,” Hazan said. “And … they see the interests of each country in a very, very different ways.”
Despite these differences, analysts believe Netanyahu will try to repair ties with the White House after elections.
“In order to curry favor with the people that could keep him in office, he has to stand up for Israel’s interests especially when the American president is perceived by these voters as not having Israel’s interests at heart.” Hazan said. “[If] he is reelected, he will have to mend fences with the United States.”
According to Eran, a way out of the current impasse would have been for Netanyahu to hold discrete talks with representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties. Earlier this week, the Israeli PM turned down an invitation to meet behind closed doors with Senate Democrats.
“Both leaders don’t need to necessary hug each other but they should have reached some understanding about the Israeli concerns which I think are legitimate,” he said.
NBC News’ F. Brinley Bruton contributed to this report.