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Professor Vijay Prashad says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a high risk gambler whose relationship with the Obama administration has hit rock bottom

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to lobby Congress to approve tough new sanctions on Iran during his visit to address the Congress in early March. Obama has opposed those sanctions, and saying that he needs more time to hash out a deal with Iran’s nuclear program, and that new sanctions would put those talks at risk. Netanyahu is also expected to address the APEC meeting during his visit. Now joining us to discuss all of this is Vijay Prashad. He is an Indian historian and journalist. He is the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and professor of international studies at Trinity College. Thank you so much for joining me, Vijay. VIJAY PRASHAD, PROF. OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, TRINITY COLLEGE: Thank you so much. PERIES: So, Vijay, when his Netanyahu ignoring his greatest ally in the world in this way? PRASHAD: Well, Benjamin Netanyahu is nothing if not a high-risk gambler. And he knows that his relationship with the Obama administration is pretty much at rock-bottom. And he has been opposed to the only rational way to move forward with the Middle East standoff, which is the agreement between the United States, Western European allies, and Iran on the question of the nuclear program that Iran has. There is no other way to go with that program than to have talks. Mr. Netanyahu was has utterly opposed it from the beginning. Mr. Obama has staked his political capital on the success of those talks. So in that sense, Mr. Netanyahu’s trip is premised on the idea that it will somehow destroy the talks. Unfortunately for him, I actually think that his arrival in Washington in early March, speaking both before the Republican-controlled Congress and before AIPAC, is going to help Mr. Obama move an agenda with Iran rather than hurt it. I mean, don’t forget, Sharmini, that regardless of what the Republican-controlled Congress does, they will need 67 votes in the Senate to overturn an Obama veto. And if they want to pass new sanctions, a slate against Iran, they’re going to need Democratic votes in the Senate. And by Mr. Netanyahu so blatantly snubbing his nose at Mr. Obama, it’s very unlikely that those Democrats are going to vote for the Menendez-Kirk plan to increase sanctions. And because of that, Obama is going to get his way. I think this is going to backfire on Benjamin Netanyahu and on the Republicans. PERIES: Vijay, how is all this playing out in Israel prior to an election on 17 March? Is this going to curry favor among voters? PRASHAD: Well, I don’t follow Israel very closely, its internal politics, but it’s true that people have said there has been a drift rightward in Israeli society. And it is likely that some kind of brash statement might appeal to a section of the Israeli electorate. But, again, this is high stakes poker. It is also likely that if Mr. Netanyahu goes head-to-had once again–this is not the first time–once again, if he’s seen to go head-to-head with Barack Obama, this might be detrimental to him among sections of the Israeli public who don’t want to alienate the Americans, who, after all, are the main backer on the international stage. So it’s not clear that Mr. Netanyahu has a direct understanding of what this visit to Washington is going to produce, either in terms of the deal with Iran on sanctions or in terms of his own attempt to win a majority in the Knesset when they have their election later in the year. PERIES: Vijay, now Netanyahu and Israel is competing for regional dominance with Iran in the region. And with Saudi Arabia in the mix and having a new king of Saudi Arabia, how is all this going to play out? PRASHAD: Well, I mean, firstly, Israel is not dominant in the region. It operates its strategic vision through Saudi Arabia. I mean, when the Arab spring took place and governments emerged in the region with increased hostility to Israel, it just turns out that those governments found themselves on the wayside. And much of that happened through Saudi intervention. The collaboration between Saudi Arabia and Israel is yet to be fully revealed, but Israel itself is not capable of having a regional hegemony, largely because it is entirely the case in all Arab countries that Israel is essentially persona non grata, despite the fact that Egypt and Jordan have peace agreements with Israel. So they have to operate through Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has a new King. It’s not exactly clear what the direction will be in the kingdom vis-à-vis Israel. Likely to be business as usual. I mean, the arrival of Mr. Netanyahu in Washington, D.C., is not going to change the equation in the region at all. Again, it’s a very risky proposition from Mr. Netanyahu. Increasingly, public opinion in the United States is turning against Israeli military usage in that region, particularly, of course, its asymmetrical domination against the Palestinians. So rather than handle that shift in public opinion, this is simply going to cement a very large bloc of the American public that are increasingly turned off by Israel’s agenda in the region. PERIES: Right. Vijay, thank you so much for joining us. And we’ll come back to you, as the visit gets closer, for further analysis. PRASHAD: Thanks a lot. PERIES: And thank you for joining me on The Real News Network.


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Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.