Netanyahu Speech To Congress Is High-Risk, High-Reward, Analysts Say Israelis are watching the latest spat between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the White House — which could worsen his country's global standing, but win him votes in Israel's March elections.

Netanyahu Speech To Congress Is High-Risk, High-Reward, Analysts Say

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The Obama administration's tense relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got a bit more tense this week. The president asked Congress in his State of the Union address to allow more time for nuclear talks before imposing new sanctions on Iran. The Republican Congressional leadership responded by inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is famously critical of those talks, to give his own address to Congress in early March. Now Israelis nervously watch this spat play out. NPR's Emily Harris reports from Jerusalem.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: The March speech will be Netanyahu's third address to Congress.


PRIME MINSTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress...

HARRIS: Nineteen years ago, he spoke about peace with the Palestinians. Four years ago, the main topic was the same. But both times, he mentioned the threat from Iran, a real concern of Israelis.

MEIR JAVEDANFAR: Absolutely nobody in the State of Israel wants Iran to have a nuclear weapon for a nanosecond - nobody.

HARRIS: Meir Javedanfar teaches Iranian politics at Israel's Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. He says if Netanyahu convinces Congress to vote on sanctions against Iran, that could undermine the ongoing U.S.-Iran negotiations, the same as if Iran's parliament voted to keep up the country's nuclear enrichment program even during negotiations, he says.

JAVEDANFAR: How would that be interpreted in the West? That would be taken as a sign of bad will. And this is the equivalent if we do this now.

HARRIS: And that could lead to a crisis, says Hebrew University's emeritus poli-sci professor Yaron Ezrahi.

YARON EZRAHI: The thing that worries me the most is that if due to the crisis in the negotiation between Iran and the United States a war will ensue, Netanyahu will being accused, Israel will be accused of sabotaging a process of coming to some kind of a settlement that will prevent the war.

HARRIS: Ezrahi also worries that the partisan way Netanyahu's speech was arranged could potentially split congressional support for Israel and possibly threaten the strong backing Israel has long had from both parties. But political analyst Eytan Gilboa of Israel’s Bar-Ilan University says a congressional speech on Iran could win Netanyahu votes back home, two weeks before a tight election.

EYTAN GILBOA: Many people here believe that Obama is leading to a bad agreement. The opposition here would like this election to focus on social and economic issues, where Netanyahu and his party are much more vulnerable.

HARRIS: Gilboa says how Netanyahu's speech plays in Israel will depend in part on how he's received in Washington. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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