When strategic goals fall victim to politics

The headlong flight of politics, in both Washington and Tel Aviv, was disturbing in the way it gave strategic concerns a brush-off at a critical moment. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told it, when he made a controversial speech to the United States Congress this week, it was nothing but strategy that had moved him. The world would see it more as an election stunt, given his troubled electoral prospects back home, and as yet another blithe attempt by the US opposition party, the Republicans, to slight Democratic President Barack Obama.

If strategic outcomes had truly mattered to Mr Netanyahu, he would not have been so careless about the potential harm inflicted by his actions on US-Israeli ties - which are all the more critical, given the lurching trajectory of current events in the Middle East. Americans polled are right to see the deliberate act of the Prime Minister and the Republicans, in not informing the White House about his visit, as disrespecting both the presidency and Mr Obama.

The Republicans might yet rue hatching this political theatre. It could well drive pro-Israeli Democrats to close ranks with President Obama as he works towards a deal with Iran on constraining its nuclear programme - an effort that is favoured by most Americans, including 61 per cent of Republicans and 66 per cent of Democrats.

An agreement with Teheran matters to the world because it would offer, at the very least, the means to monitor its nuclear programme. Without it, the Iranians would simply proceed with its nuclear development which even bombs wouldn't be able to snuff out as Iran "has acquired the nuclear know-how over the past six decades to rebuild the programme in a couple of years", as The New York Times observed.

Thus, arguments based on the conduct of the irascible regime in Teheran can cut both ways. Deal or no deal, there will be a danger posed by Teheran's influence in the region which extends to Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and, lately, to Yemen's capital Sanaa, held by the Houthis (seen as "Iran's proxy in its confrontation with the Saudis", as noted by a Washington-based analyst). The blight of sectarianism in the region is said to be heightened by Iran's Shi'ite allies. Regional stability thus hinges partly on how well the world is able to restrain Iran. Compared to the status quo, an agreement offers some means of ensuring responsible behaviour, while retaining missile and nuclear sanctions.

Of course, ideas for a better deal, ferried from Tel Aviv by Mr Netanyahu, would have been most welcome. But he had none, woefully. By running down Mr Obama's foreign policy before his own lawmakers, Mr Netanyahu just sowed distrust. That was hardly helpful.