Netanyahu’s visit and its precedents

Israel/Palestine
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Haaretz has reported that Benjamin Netanyahu in 2007 offered to join a coalition government with Ehud Olmert on the condition that Olmert launch an attack against Iran. Recall: just three months before Netanyahu made that offer, in March-April 2007, Iran had detained fifteen British sailors in the Persian Gulf, and the neoconservatives were turning up the heat for an American strike against Iran. The Cheney circle made no secret of their eagerness for a U.S. attack–whether ahead of Israel, in combination with Israel, or as a partner expecting to take Israel’s side in case of Iranian retaliation.

So, when Netanyahu in July 2007 sent a special memorandum of his plan for an Israeli Unity Government to the U.S. State Department (in a telegram marked confidential), he was also intervening in American politics and probably with coordination on the American side. He had done the same in 1996–when, as the historian Taylor Branch reports Bill Clinton saying–“his Likud agents in the United States joined Republicans eager to stir up suspicions against Clinton’s Middle East diplomacy. . . . [Clinton] called it scandalous electioneering by and with a foreign political party.”

Today Netanyahu is preparing to repeat the performance. An invitation to speak to Congress–issued by Republicans, and announced by Eric Cantor–gives him an opportunity, now at close quarters, to show his gift for “scandalous electioneering.” Doubtless he will speak to Congress about the entire Middle East. He will make an offer that involves Palestine–an offer whose gestation will take time and patience. He will not fail to invoke the imminent danger of Iran. By his American admirers, he will be compared to Churchill.

Netanyahu’s design in 2007 was thwarted by Admiral William Fallon, the chief of CentCom, who kept to appropriate size the U.S. response to Iran’s taking of British hostages. Assisting Fallon was the secretary of defense, Robert Gates. Vice President Cheney was not pleased at the obstruction, his people were still in place all over government, and less than a year later Fallon was sacked. Now Gates is poised to step down as secretary of defense, while President Obama has been thinking (at his usual pace) whether to make a speech about the Middle East before Netanyahu arrives to be cheered by Congress. The presidential adviser closest to Israel, Dennis Ross, has warned Obama not to steal a march on Netanyahu.

Is Obama any better prepared than Clinton–politically, temperamentally, and morally prepared–to deflect the stratagems of “scandalous electioneering” by an Israeli politician in America?

About David Bromwich

David Bromwich teaches literature at Yale. He is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post and has written on politics and culture for The New Republic, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, and other magazines. He is editor of Edmund Burke's selected writings On Empire, Liberty, and Reform and co-editor of the Yale University Press edition of On Liberty.

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