Will Netanyahu’s speech to Congress backfire?

Updated 2:10 PM EST, Sun March 1, 2015
(CNN) —  

In his speech to Congress Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to lobby Congress for tougher sanctions on Iran and appeal for support from the American public in pushing back against a nuclear deal he opposes — but the speech may have just the opposite effect.

Netanyahu’s detractors and even some supporters are expressing concern that he may have overplayed his hand by going before Congress to oppose President Barack Obama’s Iran policy without consulting the White House.

READ: Why Netanyahu is confronting the White House

The controversy surrounding the address, they warn, may have overshadowed the message and turned potentially friendly Democrats toward the position of their president, who wants to see the deal with Iran go through and opposes further sanctions at this point.

Negotiators have until the end of the month to lay out the political framework of a deal. But a group of 10 pro-Israel Senate Democrats have said they’d be willing to consider joining with Republicans to pass new sanctions on Iran after March 24, giving the GOP a near veto-proof number of votes in favor of the measure.

Netanyahu’s address could make or break the three remaining Democratic votes needed to override a certain presidential veto on new sanctions. Allies of the prime minister say that he felt a sense of urgency on the issue that made him willing to risk a break with the White House, which had recently asked him not to publicly lobby against the deal.

Netanyahu is known for his oratorical skills and believes in the power of a speech to shape history, which is ultimately his goal with Tuesday’s address. He feels the threat to Israel from a nuclear Iran is an existential one, and he has explained that his decision to speak, despite the consequences, is informed by a deep concern for the future of his nation.

“I respect the White House and the President of the United States, but on such a fateful matter, that can determine whether or not we survive, I must do everything to prevent such a great danger for Israel,” he said in Israel Wednesday.

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But many are questioning how much Netanyahu’s Washington visit – during which the White House has pointedly declined to arrange an Oval Office visit – will go towards preventing the outcome he fears.

“It will only undermine Israel’s ability to influence the critical issue of securing a genuine guarantee that Iran will never gain access to nuclear weaponry,” Israel’s Opposition Leader, Isaac Herzog, who is challenging Netanyahu in the upcoming election, wrote in The New York Times Friday. “Such an outcome is what Israel needs, but it can be achieved only through a full and trusting dialogue with the American administration, based on broad bipartisan support.”

Meir Dagan, the former head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency and a Netanyahu critic, told Ynet News Friday that strained ties with Obama have already hurt Israel.

“The risks involved in such a confrontation [with the U.S.] are intolerable,” he said.

There have been reports of American officials limiting some of their consultations with Israel on Iran, and in a sign of how fraught the relationship has become – with the invitation from Republican Speaker John Boehner lending the event a partisan agenda in the eyes of Democrats – both the White House and Netanyahu have ramped up their rhetoric over the past week. National Security Adviser Susan Rice called the speech “destructive” to the U.S.-Israel relationship.