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Congress Seeks Netanyahu's Direction

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Reprinted from Consortium News


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Showing who some in Congress believe is the real master of U.S. foreign policy, House Speaker John Boehner has invited Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session and offer a rebuttal to President Barack Obama's comments on world affairs in his State of the Union speech.

Boehner made clear that Netanyahu's third speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress -- scheduled for Feb. 11 -- was meant to counter Obama's assessments. "There is a serious threat in the world, and the President last night kind of papered over it," Boehner said on Wednesday. "And the fact is that there needs to be a more serious conversation in America about how serious the threat is from radical Islamic jihadists and the threat posed by Iran."

The scheduling of Netanyahu's speech caught the White House off-guard, since the Israeli prime minister had apparently not bothered to clear his trip with the administration. The Boehner-Netanyahu arrangement demonstrates a mutual contempt for this President's authority to conduct American foreign policy as prescribed by the U.S. Constitution.

In the past when Netanyahu has spoken to Congress, Republicans and Democrats have competed to show their devotion by quickly and frequently leaping to their feet to applaud almost every word out of the Israeli prime minister's mouth. By addressing a joint session for a third time, Netanyahu would become only the second foreign leader to do so, joining British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who never used the platform to demean the policies of a sitting U.S. president.

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Besides this extraordinary recognition of another country's leader as the true definer of U.S. foreign policy, Boehner's move reflects an ignorance of what is actually occurring on the ground in the Middle East. Boehner doesn't seem to realize that Netanyahu has developed what amounts to a de facto alliance with extremist Sunni forces in the region.

Not only is Israel now collaborating behind the scenes with Saudi Arabia's Wahhabist leadership but Israel has begun taking sides militarily in support of the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's affiliate in the Syrian civil war. A source familiar with U.S. intelligence information on Syria said Israel has a "non-aggression pact" with Nusra forces that control territory adjacent to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The quiet cooperation between Israel and al-Qaeda's affiliate was further underscored on Sunday when Israeli helicopters attacked and killed advisers to the Syrian military from Lebanon's Hezbollah and Iran. In other words, Israel has dispatched its forces into Syria to kill military personnel helping to fight al-Nusra. Iran later confirmed that one of its generals had died in the Israeli strike.

Israel's tangled alliances with Sunni forces have been taking shape over the past several years, as Israel and Saudi Arabia emerged as strange bedfellows in the geopolitical struggle against Shiite-ruled Iran and its allies in Iraq, Syria and southern Lebanon. Both Saudi and Israeli leaders have talked with growing alarm about this "Shiite crescent" stretching from Iran through Iraq and Syria to the Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon.

Favoring Sunni Extremists

Senior Israelis have made clear they would prefer Sunni extremists to prevail in the Syrian civil war rather than President Bashar al-Assad, who is an Alawite, a branch of Shiite Islam. Assad's relatively secular government is seen as the protector of Shiites, Christians and other minorities who fear the vengeful brutality of the Sunni jihadists who now dominate the anti-Assad rebels.

Yet, in one of the most explicit expressions of Israel's views, its Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, a close adviser to Netanyahu, told the Jerusalem Post in September 2013 that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad.

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"The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc," Oren told the Jerusalem Post in an interview. "We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren't backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran." He said this was the case even if the "bad guys" were affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Saudi Arabia shares Israeli's strategic view that "the Shiite crescent" must be broken and has thus developed a rapport with Netanyahu's government in a kind of "enemy of my enemy is my friend" relationship. But some rank-and-file Jewish supporters of Israel have voiced concerns about Israel's newfound alliance with the Saudi monarchy, especially given its adherence to ultraconservative Wahhabi Islam and its embrace of a fanatical hatred of Shiite Islam, a sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites that dates back 1,400 years.

Though President Obama has repeatedly declared his support for Israel, he has developed a contrary view from Netanyahu's regarding what is the gravest danger in the Middle East. Obama considers the radical Sunni jihadists, associated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, to be the biggest threat to Western interests and U.S. national security.

That has put him in a different de facto alliance -- with Iran and the Syrian government -- since they represent the strongest bulwarks against Sunni jihadists who have targeted Americans and other Westerners for death.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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