In contemplating Bibi’s address to AIPAC Jeff Goldberg observed in his column for the Atlantic that Netanyahu’s knows better than to play games in U.S. politics. Israel is not that immune or invulnerable to criticism about his interfering or undermining the American political process. While the entire circus he has created in Washington this week has a very serious underlying issue—the existential potential danger posed to Israel by a nuclear Iran—it sadly has all been superseded by political gamesmanship both in the U.S. and in Israel and between the two allies.
Goldberg suggests—as have many other reporters and analysts– that much of Netanyahu’s decision to address a joint session of Congress was motivated largely by Netanyahu’s genuine domestic considerations; concern for his own re-election on March 17. As a result of this electoral insecurity, Bibi decided to go to Washington to win re-election.
What is curious about Netanyahu’s behavior is that it recalls a similarly irrational pattern of behavior perpetrated by Nixon in authorizing the Watergate break-in. For a man who was so far ahead in the polls and facing a Democratic Party on the verge of nominating George McGovern, it was only his personal and psychological insecurity that drove him to order that the Democratic Committee Headquarters be burglarized to obtain the Democrats’ campaign strategy.
It seems clear that in addition to the extremely dangerous and misguided encouragement from his political adviser Ambassador Ron Dermer—who earned his stripes at the feet of Republican strategist Frank Luntz—Netanyahu was driven by his own insecurity and fear that he might not be elected. (Coincidently, there actually are some recent Israeli polls, for whatever they may be worth, suggesting that at this moment Bibi’s Likud Party could lose voters both from the left and the right dropping his party to as few as 18 seats in the Knesset.)
Instead of trying to tighten and modify his own supporters at home, he spent weeks now fussing about this Washington speech. He was so insecure, like Nixon, that he felt the need for domestic purposes to try to hit a grand slam home run in Washington rather than hit some run-scoring singles at home. As was the case with Nixon, for an intelligent, politically savvy politician, it is very hard to comprehend the extent to which Bibi has gone. In the process he has at a minimum, brought great stress and potentially serious damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship.