Bo Statham: It’s not what Netanyahu said, but what he didn’t

In his address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his vehement objections to the status of negotiations with Iran to limit its nuclear development to peaceful purposes. Led by the United States, along with Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, the talks are aimed at preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability.

House Speaker John Boehner’s unilateral invitation to Mr. Netanyahu, the prime minister’s acceptance and what he didn’t say may be more significant than his unrestrained, aggressive remarks.

It’s difficult to say whether the conduct of the speaker or of Mr. Netanyahu in this affair has been more egregious.

Mr. Boehner has not disclosed who initiated the invitation, but he worked with the Israeli ambassador to the United States in arranging the event. Interestingly, the date selected: two weeks before the election in which Mr. Netanyahu is a candidate for re-election.

The speaker acknowledges he didn’t approach the White House about inviting Mr. Netanyahu, notwithstanding the conduct of relations with foreign countries clearly is vested in the president. If Mr. Boehner didn’t violate the law and protocol, he certainly went beyond common courtesy and respect for the office of the chief executive.

Mr. Boehner said he invited the prime minister because Congress “wants to hear what a trusted ally has to say” on this important issue. That is understandable, but Mr. Netanyahu doesn’t have to address Congress for it to know what he thinks on the subject of Iran. He has been making that clear for years, and he said nothing new in his speech on Tuesday.

The prime minister warned of the dangers Iran presented to the Middle East and the world, stating Iran was an existential threat to Israel and cannot be trusted to comply with any agreement. He said of the current draft being discussed, “It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb, it paves Iran’s path to the bomb.” Mr. Netanyahu offered no alternative to the talks with Iran, except the meaningless statement, “The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal.”

The United States understands the threats to Israel, and its support of the nation isn’t be undermined by this unfortunate event.

Mr. Netanyahu very well knew the political implications when he accepted the speaker’s invitation. He and Mr. Boehner understood they were injecting partisanship in the Israel-U.S. relationship. And, certainly, Mr. Netanyahu was aware of the potential boost of his congressional address to his re-election;, a leading Israel news source said, “Two weeks before the election, the prime minister is trying to firmly dominate the campaign agenda.”

The New York Times editorialized on Feb. 25 Netanyahu and Speaker Boehner are “jeopardizing Israel’s relations with the United States with crass political partisanship.”

Critically, the prime minister didn’t say explicitly what Israel is going to do if the negotiations fail, freeing Iran of its current agreement to discontinue enriching uranium and allowing inspection of its nuclear facilities. But in a statement seemingly threatening unilateral military action against Iran, Mr. Netanyahu warned, “Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.”

Use of force in an attempt to destroy Iran’s nuclear capability, with unknowable consequences, would be the worst possible course of action.

Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aid and businessman. he livs in Gardnerville and can be reached at


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