<a href="http://www.mepc.org/articles-commentary/middle-east-focus">Middle East In Focus</a>
Days after Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s addressed the U.S. Congress, observers and commentators from the region continue to take stock of the fall-out from his speech. Unsurprisingly, many of those who already viewed Mr. Netanyahu with suspicion felt the speech did little to persuade them, and the U.S. administration, to change course with regards to the talks with Iran. Among the critics of the Israeli prime minister there are those who also think that Mr. Netanyahu ought to spend more time worrying about the untenable situation in the Occupied Territories rather than the question of Iran. However, in addition to receiving support for his from the usual suspects, support for Mr. Netanyahu’s efforts to thwart a possible U.S. - Iran deal has also come from some observers in the region who fear an emboldened Iran.
Leading the charge against the Israeli Prime Minister, the Lebanese Daily Star editorial characterized the speech as ‘devoid of any logical argument or analysis’ expressing optimism that his message would fall on deaf ears: “comments released from U.S. administration officials directly after Netanyahu had wrapped up indicate that his illogical ramblings will, thankfully, have no sway over the talks. Every accusation leveled at the U.S., in terms of the alleged weakness of the nuclear negotiations, has already been tackled, and to pretend otherwise is not naďve but deliberately misleading. Hopefully, U.S. officials are wising up to the deception of the only, and undeclared, nuclear power in the region.”
Yedioth Ahronoth’s Omer Benjakob and Roei Eisenberg on the other hand accused Mr. Netanyahu of rehashing the same tired slogans, and worse yet, preaching to the choir: “Netanyahu came off as used car salesman in a new suit, regurgitating arguments he has made countless of times to little or no effect....That is one path the region could follow, a path that Netanyahu unwittingly advanced by throwing the grenade of partisan politics into the room and pretending that raucous applause from Republicans was a signal of bipartisan support....Conducting a speech before a group of staunch supporters, who agreed with every word you said before it even left your mouth, during prime time in Israel, two weeks ahead of an elections, has very little to do with Iran or the Jewish people’s survival.”
Writing for Al Arabiya, Yossi Mekelberg argues the Israeli prime minister’s speech demonstrated the political opportunism of the speech, while adding little or nothing to the debate and the security of Israel: “Predictably, the speech was a direct and bold challenge to the U.S. administration on a policy which is central to current U.S. foreign policy. Consequently it strained relations with the American administration and the Democratic Party....Regrettably, this attitude might lend him another term as prime minister, however, at the expense of Israeli interests of avoiding a rift with the U.S. and European Union, and in the process might spoil an agreement with Iran on its nuclear programme. His speech might look to his supporters as an act of brave leadership, but in reality it was one which played on fears and emotions, offering no solutions, and leaving Israel internationally rather isolated.”
Samira Shackle saw little upside to PM Benyamin Netanyahu’s speech, suggesting that now the Israeli prime minister would be partly blamed should the U.S. - Iran talks fail: “When it finally happened on Tuesday, Netanyahu's speech contained few surprises. He repeated his long-held line that Iran poses a ‘threat to the entire world’, adding that ‘Iran has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted’.... It's possible that Netanyahu and his government feel that they can bypass the Obama administration and talk directly to Congress about Israel's security, but this is a strategy fraught with risks. Israel needs the support of the White House and the State Department too....And if there is no deal, why then Mr Netanyahu may well have to share some of the blame rather than just Tehran. It certainly does not seem that there has been any immediate gain, beyond triggering huge controversy.”
Meanwhile, the Haaretz editorial accuses the prime minister of ignoring the situation in the Occupied Territories, which it believes is the ‘real existential threat to Israel’: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the U.S. Congress on Tuesday brought the humbug that has characterized all the candidates in this election to a climax. All of them are ignoring the real existential threat to Israel and its ability to survive as a “Jewish and democratic state”: the unending occupation of the territories....Nobody dares to talk about the conflict with the Palestinians, its heavy price and the necessity of ending it. But topping them all is the prime minister, who wasted the great opportunity and the enormous attention he received on Capitol Hill and didn’t even mention the real danger Israel faces.”
Even among those sympathetic to the prime minister’s message, like Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon, there was concern that, given the highly charged context in which the speech was delivered, what was said will likely have little impact: “The way the speech issue was handled turned the matter into being about Netanyahu, when it should – at this critical juncture – have been about Iran....Netanyahu came to Washington, delivered and left.… It is doubtful that anything dramatic will change. It is another incremental step in trying to stop the Iranian bomb; the speech’s impact on the U.S. lawmakers, if there is any, will only be known later....Netanyahu’s speech came and went. The negotiations with Iran will continue. The U.S. - Israel relationship will remain strong…. The true questions and tests will arise when and if an Israeli prime minister ever finds his back to the wall and feels compelled to do more against Iran’s nuclear program than ‘just’ address the U.S. Congress.”
Still, some expressed pride in the fact that the prime minister of ‘a Jewish State of Israel’ had spoken and the world listened. In an op-ed for Arutz Sheva, Jack Englehard reflects positively on the Israeli prime minister’s speech, noting that he felt as though: “Netanyahu was speaking to me and to my generation that survived the Holocaust, and what a thrill it was to behold an American Congress so warmly greet an Israeli prime minister....We remember a time when there was no Israel. So imagine. Imagine what it feels like to be presented with a miracle straight into your living room. An Israeli prime minister speaks – and the world listens....This was an extremely important speech delivered today. For some of us, it was given by a man we never expected to see – the prime minister of the Jewish State of Israel. That was the most important part of all.”
Mr. Netanyahu has also received some unlikely support from Arab News’ Abdulateef Al-Mulhim, who while disagreeing with the Israeli prime minister’s policies, is opposed to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear capability: “I don’t think Israel is under threat from Iran no matter what the Iranians say or pretend to do. Talk is cheap. The Iranians' threats to Israel are just to gain popularity among the masses. It is Saudi Arabia, which faces the real and genuine threat from Iran....Now, don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Iran except that it does not show friendly gesture toward Saudi Arabia. And I also don’t agree with Netanyahu’s policies. But if his speech will delay or cancel the Iranian nuclear program, then let him talk as loud as he could either to the AIPAC, the Congress or at the Washington Monument.”
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