Netanyahu's shocking affront: What his stunning speech was really about

The Israeli PM briefly said nice things about Obama, before trashing him and his intelligence for 45 minutes

Published March 3, 2015 11:15PM (EST)

  (AP/Gali Tibbon)
(AP/Gali Tibbon)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent a couple of minutes at the very beginning of his address to Congress -- "the most important legislative body in the world," he said, accurately and depressingly -- praising the Obama administration. President Obama has always been there for Israel, he reassured. His administration blocks anything Israel wants it to block at the UN. Obama sends Israel all the military aid it needs. Netanyahu alluded to other, more classified moments when the President has come to the immediate help of the Prime Minister. "At each of those moments, I called the president and he was there."

And this is how Netanyahu repays him: by going behind his back, at the invitation of John Boehner, to address the United States Congress about the "very bad deal" that the administration hasn't even finished negotiating with Iran, and is just as likely not to reach.

This was a gross spectacle.

Where to begin? How about the section in the beginning where Netanyahu, patronizingly, delivers a history of the Iranian regime and its sponsorship of terrorism and insurgency against Americans in the region. Excuse me, but we don't need to be told, by a foreign leader, how Iran has treated the United States. And then this: "Don't be fooled. The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn't turn Iran into a friend of America." Again, thanks, but we'll figure out our foreign policy for ourselves.

Netanyahu went on to describe the outlines of the deal, as rumored in the press. If you're really so thankful to the Obama administration for putting its neck on the line in the international community so many times to defend Israel, then the first thing you might want to do is reconsider commenting, before the U.S. Congress, on murmurs thrown around in the press. "While the final deal has not yet been signed," he said, "certain elements of any potential deal are now a matter of public record. You don't need intelligence agencies and secret information to know this. You can Google it." Yes, and we all know that anything that's Googled is reliable information and merits official denunciation from a "friendly" visiting head of state on U.S. soil, in a campaign speech. It would be much less insulting if Netanyahu commented in such incendiary fashion after a framework had been reached at the end of the month, but of course that, if it even got that far, would come after the Israeli election.

Netanyahu argued that the rumored, very much not-finalized deal being negotiated by the Obama administration would be worse than no deal. It would expire too soon -- in a decade, as rumored -- and would leave a "vast nuclear infrastructure" in place so that Iran could pick up right where it left off. If it ever stopped trying, anyway. Because another key component of Netanyahu's speech was that Iran will simply lie about everything. That logic is dissonant with the major recommendation that Netanyahu eventually made: the alternative to this deal is not war but a "better deal," which he defines as one in which Iran unilaterally caves on 100 percent of its goals as a state. Isn't that a reasonable ask? Even if that deal were struck, Netanyahu would still argue against it on the grounds that Iran would just lie. This is always an excuse that he can turn to. "Right now, Iran could be hiding nuclear facilities that we don't know about" is a line that he used yesterday, today, and can always use.

Netanyahu does not want a "better deal." (It should be said that holding out for this better deal, the one in which Iran would get nothing but still agree to, would mean reverting to the pre-interim agreement status quo, in which there are no restrictions on Iran's activity.) He wants nothing less than regime change in Iran -- and oh right, he wants the United States to take care of it for him. But he suggested that Israel is willing to act on its own to take care of business if need be. Perhaps that's something that the administration should take them up on if Netanyahu gets his way and the possibility of progress dissolves.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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