Israel’s Netanyahu flies to U.S. ahead of Congress address

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu departs Tel Aviv bound for the United States, where he is scheduled to address Congress two weeks before an Israeli election and says he will do everything is his power to “ensure the future” of the Jewish people.

BEN GURION AIRPORT, NEAR TEL AVIV, ISRAEL (MARCH 1, 2015) (REUTERS) – Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu left Israel on Sunday (March 1), bound for Washington where he will address Congress on Tuesday (March 3), and is expected to warn U.S. lawmakers about the risks of a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme and keep alive the possibility of further sanctions on Tehran, frustrating President Barack Obama’s long-running policy of negotiation with the Islamic Republic.

Boarding his plane in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said that he was leaving for a “fateful, even historic mission”.

“I feel that I am an emissary of all Israel’s citizens, even those who do not agree me with – of the entire Jewish people. I feel deep and sincere concern about the security of all Israel’s citizens and the fate of the country and of our people. I will do everything in my power to ensure our future,” he said, looking tired as he squinted into the sunlight on the tarmac.

Relations between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu hit a new low over the Israeli Prime Minister’s planned speech to Congress and a looming deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran, there are growing signs it could damage the broader U.S.-Israeli alliance.

Already there has been some fraying of the usually strong relationship amid the frosty personal ties between the two leaders and a deepening divide over the Iran talks, which Israel fears will allow its arch foe to develop an atom bomb.

U.S. officials are fuming over what they see as an affront by Netanyahu over Obama’s Iran diplomacy ahead of an end-of-March deadline for a framework nuclear agreement.

Hard-line U.S. supporters are adamant in defending Netanyahu’s right to take center-stage in Washington on Tuesday to sound the alarm over the possible deal.

U.S. and Israeli officials insist that key areas of cooperation from counter-terrorism to intelligence to cyber security have been unaffected and will remain so.

But the rift – shaping up as the worst in decades between the allies due to its partisan nature – could have a real impact in some areas, making it harder for Israel to press concerns directly with senior U.S. officials, for example.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the “politicised” nature of Netanyahu’s visit threatens “what undergirds the strength of the relationship”, though he said there was shared interest in keeping the alliance strong.

People on both sides, including current and former officials, U.S. lawmakers, independent experts and Washington lobbyists, expressed concern about a broader fallout on ties.

At the same time many of them point to the two countries’ history of being able to “compartmentalise” diplomatic disputes to preserve cooperation on other shared priorities.