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Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress ‘Irresponsible’

Michael B. Oren, who spent four years as ambassador to Washington for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, has called on him to cancel his speech to Congress about Iran. Amos Yaldin, a former military intelligence chief who frequently briefed the prime minister on security matters, denounced the planned speech as “irresponsible.”

According to source in Jerusalem, both men decried their former boss for politicizing a vital Israeli interest.Both also have their own political motives; Oren is running for parliament with a new center-right party, and Yadlin is the designee of the center-left Zionist camp to be defense minister.

If Mr. Netanyahu imagined that the speech, a few weeks before Israel’s election on March 17, would bolster his status as a statesman, the undiplomatic way it was arranged has instead given his challengers an opening to undermine his main campaign platform. The backlash – not only from the White House, but also from Democratic lawmakers – has reverberated in Israel, where maintainig bipartisan support in the United States Congress is concidered as crucial as stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

As in America, conservatives like Netanyahu tend to have the advantage when campaigns are about security, and so far his opponents have emphasizesd pocketbook issues and corruption. But political analysts say that international isolation is a prime public concern of Israelis, and that attacking Mr. Netanyahu for deteriorating relations with Washington, Israel’s main defender on the world stage, could be a winning message in a tightning race.

“It’s a huge miscalculation,” said Eytan Gilboa, a professor at Bar Ilan University who specializes in political communication and Israeli-American relations. “People are now questioning his judgement. If the opposition would not just focus on economic and social issues, but also argue against his claims on security and foreign policy, I think this exercise might backfire.”

The invitation to address a joint session of Congress to promote new sanctions on Iran was made by the speaker of the House, John Boehner, a Republican, without consulting the Obama administration or his Democratic counterparts, something several veteran diplomats described as “unprecedented.” The White House responded with its own snub, announcing that president Obama would not meet with Netanyahu while he was in town.

Netanyahu, who has made the Iranian nuclear program a mainstay of his career,insists his motivations were not political and declared on Sunday: “I will go anywhere I am invited in order to enunciate the State of Israeli’s position and in order to defend its future and existence.”

Israeli and American commentators have described a toxic mix of political considerations in both countries – a touch of pre-election panic by Netanyahu meeting up with Boehner’s opportunism. Many have called it clumsy at best, if not cynical self-promotion with a high cost.