With a mix of passion and steadfastness combined with a detailed prosecutor-like approach, Netanyahu exposed the deal being pushed by President Obama. In short, Netanyahu explained why the deal would guarantee that Iran would obtain a nuclear weapon — a possibility that would not only put Israel at risk of annihilation, but threaten global security…
The Israeli leader raised two fundamental problems with the deal. First, it allows Iran to maintain its nuclear architecture — not a single facility would be destroyed, thousands of centrifuges would continue to spin — and the deal also doesn’t address Iran’s missile program. Though the deal would impose inspections, Netanyahu noted that at best, all inspections can do is detect whether a nation is building a bomb. It cannot prevent Iran from building one. He noted that Iran has cheated in the past, and wouldn’t hesitate to do so again — and noted how the inspections regime had failed to prevent North Korea from developing a nuclear arsenal…
“Would Iran be less aggressive when sanctions are removed and its economy is stronger?” Netanyahu asked. “If Iran is gobbling up four countries right now while it’s under sanctions, how many more countries will Iran devour when sanctions are lifted? Would Iran fund less terrorism when it has mountains of cash with which to fund more terrorism?”
Two key concessions to Iran made the deal “so bad,” Netanyahu said.
“One, leaving Iran with a vast nuclear program, and two, lifting the restrictions on that program in about a decade,” he said. “That’s why this deal is so bad. It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb, it paves Iran’s path to the bomb … This deal won’t change Iran for the better. It will only change the Middle East for the worse.”
If Iran wanted to have its sanctions lifted, Netanyahu called on the Islamic Republic to meet three requirements.
“First, stop its aggression against its neighbors in the Middle East,” he said. “Second, stop supporting terrorism around the world. And third, stop threatening to annihilate my country Israel, the one and only Jewish state!”
Rep. Jared Huffman of California, who attended the speech, accused the prime minister of trying to push the United States into war.
“This is a prime minister who’s never seen a war he didn’t want our country to fight,” Huffman said, adding that diplomats negotiating with Iran shouldn’t be distracted by Netanyahu’s address…
Another Democrat compared Netanyahu to George W. Bush’s former vice president. “This speech was straight out of the Dick Cheney playbook,” said Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth. “It was fear-mongering at its ultimate.”…
“Prime Minister Netanyahu basically said that the only acceptable deal was a perfect deal, or an ideal deal,” Yarmuth said. “It’s like the child that says, I want to go to Disneyland every day, eat ice cream and drink Coca-Cola every day, and not go to school.”
Netanyahu insisted that “no deal” is better than this deal, and here we come to his most brazen contradiction, the clearest sign that his intentions and arguments are insincere. “If Iran threatens to walk away,” he told Congress, “call their bluff. They need this deal a lot more than you do. By keeping up the pressure on Iran, you have the power to make them need it even more.”
This is nonsense, and he knows it. Early in the speech, he warned of Iran’s growing strength: It was “charging into the void” to export terror throughout the Middle East; it “dominates four Middle Eastern capitals;” it’s “busy gobbling up” nations. “We must stand together,” he urged Congress, “to stop Iran” from subjugating the region, then the world.
But later on, when he sought to assure Congress to demand stiffer terms and to let Iran walk away from the talks if they don’t like it, he changed his tune. Iran can be pressured into accepting a better deal because, he said, it’s “a very vulnerable regime, especially given the recent collapse in the price of oil.”
So which is it, Mr. Prime Minister: Iran as a rapacious beacon of Islamic terrorism, comparable in its beastliness to the Nazis or to Haman, the Persian viceroy who sought to wipe out the Jews 2,500 years ago (and yes, he made comparisons to both)—or Iran as a weakening regime, sure to change its entire political structure and foreign policy if only we applied a little more pressure?
The second target was the conservative portion of the Israeli electorate, which has, like much of the rest of Israel, grown tired of Netanyahu. He will be returned to power on March 17 if he can convince a large enough number of Likud-oriented voters to stick with his party. If they move to other right-wing parties, Israel’s president, Ruvi Rivlin, who loathes Netanyahu, will be presented with an opportunity to call for the formation of a national-unity government, or even a government led outright by the center-left Zionist Camp party. Right-wing voters in Israel aren’t upset by Netanyahu’s thumb-in-the-eye approach to President Obama. Many of them actually like it, and they will like to see that Netanyahu is more-or-less correct when he argues that Congress has Israel’s back…
Netanyahu may—may—have succeeded in putting Obama on the back foot. Obama has a very hard job here. He has to convince American legislators that reaching an agreement with a terror-sponsoring regime that is known to cheat on nuclear matters (and, by the way, also calls for the annihilation of Israel, a country the majority of Americans support) will make the world a safer place. That’s a difficult thing to do, especially when one way to actually reach a deal, American negotiators believe, is to “preserve the dignity” of the Iranian side. There’s a reasonable chance that this speech will be forgotten in a month. There’s also a reasonable chance that Netanyahu just made Obama’s mission harder.
Was it because Netanyahu actually believes what he is about to tell Congress: that his country faces an “existential threat” if Iran develops a nuclear weapon? These are fighting words on my part, but: I don’t really believe this can be so…
But from the U.S. perspective I can say that the “existential” concept rests on two utterly unsupportable premises. One is that Iran is fundamentally like Nazi Germany, and the world situation of 2015 is fundamentally like that of 1938. Emotionally you can say “never forget!” Rationally these situations have nothing in common—apart from the anti-Semitic rhetoric. (To begin with: Nazi Germany had a world-beating military and unarmed Jewish minorities within its immediate control. Iran is far away and militarily no match for Israel.) The other premise is that Iran’s leaders are literally suicidal. That is, they care more about destroying Israel than they care about their country’s survival. Remember, Israel has bombs of its own with which to retaliate, so that any attack on Israel would ensure countless more Iranian deaths. As another reader, who also identified himself as Jewish, wrote:
Questions for Prime Minister Netanyahu (and his supporters)
Question 1: How does Iran survive the consequences of a nuclear attack of any scale on Israel?
Question 2: There is no question 2.
Through its proxies, Iran is fighting a regional cold war. And like the United States, U.S.S.R., and China when they were fighting their global cold war, it is doing so in a distinctly non-suicidal way. Iran is seeking to extend its power without doing something so aggressive that it provokes retaliation that imperils the regime’s survival. Iran isn’t doing truly reckless things like invading a Saudi ally in the Persian Gulf or launching chemical or biological weapons at Israel, either directly or through its terrorist proxies. And it never has. This is a regime, after all, that accepted a UN-sponsored ceasefire rather than fight to the death against Saddam’s Iraq and that cooperated with the United States to depose the Taliban.
That’s why the Bush administration’s 2007 National Intelligence Estimate said Iran is “guided by a cost-benefit approach.” It’s why Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in 2012 that “we are of the opinion that Iran is a rational actor.” It’s why Benny Gantz, then head of the Israel Defense Forces, declared the same year that “the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people.” It’s why Meir Dagan, the longtime head of Israel’s intelligence agency, called the Iranian regime “rational” in an interview with 60 Minutes. And it’s why Ron Burgess, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Congress that “the agency assesses Iran is unlikely to initiate or provoke a conflict.” Could all these men, who analyze intelligence about Iran for a living, be wrong?
The prime objective that Netanyahu is pursuing, and that is quite consistent with his lobbying and other behavior, is not the prevention of an Iranian nuclear weapon but instead the prevention of any agreement with Iran. It is not the specific terms of an agreement that are most important to him, but instead whether there is to be any agreement at all. Netanyahu’s defense minister recently made the nature of the objective explicit when he denounced in advance “every deal” that could be made between the West and Tehran. As accompaniments to an absence of any agreements between the West and Iran, the Israeli government’s objective includes permanent pariah status for Iran and in particular an absence of any business being done, on any subject, between Washington and Tehran.
From Netanyahu’s viewpoint this objective serves several purposes. It diminishes the freedom of action of a major competitor (the second most populous country in the Middle East) for regional influence, and one that will continue to be highly critical of Israel as long as the Palestinian issue endures. By postulating a permanent, ominous threat emanating from Iran, one of the assumptions underlying a U.S. strategic relationship with Israel is retained. By opposing—and to the extent Israeli efforts are successful, preventing—the United States from doing any worthwhile business with Iran, whether on nuclear matters or on anything else, the Israeli claim to being the only reliable and effective U.S. partner in the region sounds more convincing.
The specter of Iran and especially of its nuclear program also serves as the best possible distraction and diversion from issues in which Israel is the chief problem and that Netanyahu and his government would rather not talk about. This especially includes, of course, the continued Israeli occupation of, and policies in, Palestinian territory. Netanyahu repeatedly and quickly responds to efforts by others to engage on these other issues, and especially to any direct criticism of Israeli policies, by reminding us that Iran is the “real” threat to peace and security in the region. Permanent festering of the Iranian nuclear issue serves Netanyahu’s objectives better than any resolution of the issue would.
Consider this question: When was the last time a senior Obama administration official gave a speech devoted to laying out the threat from Iran? It simply hasn’t happened. Perhaps the most extensive comment on the subject from the president himself came in October 2009, after Iran’s secret uranium enrichment facility at Qom was exposed. Obama appeared at a press briefing with French president Nicolas Sarkozy and British prime minister Gordon Brown, both of whom condemned the Iranian violations in the strongest terms…
But these flashes of rhetorical toughness were invariably paired with comedowns—Obama offering Iran a “clear path toward greater international integration if it lives up to its obligations.” Administration officials in briefings with reporters emphasized the “opportunity” the breach had given Iran.
An opportunity despite the fact that for the third time in a decade Iran had been caught lying about its nuclear program. An opportunity despite the regime’s crushing of the peaceful revolution four months earlier after the mullahs fixed the elections. And an opportunity despite our knowledge of Iran’s support for al Qaeda and its policy of targeting and killing Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It was clear before he’d been in office a year that Obama would not seriously address the threat presented by Iran.
Netanyahu will. For that reason, and because of this context and the enormous stakes, John Boehner’s invitation was less a breach of protocol or partisan ploy than it was an act of statesmanship.
“To be Jewish in this world is to always be concerned,” explained Wiesel when asked about Iran. “When enemies make threats, take them seriously.”
“We are a people that has always spoke up,” said Wiesel, who said he feels it is his duty to speak up if there is any chance that he could have a positive impact in the world.
“I cannot allow myself to live in a world where somebody will need me and I will not answer.”
In March 2012, Mr. Obama insisted “my policy is not containment, my policy is to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.” He has said as much on some 20 other occasions. But the deal being contemplated now, with a sunset provision that will ultimately give Iran the right to enrich in whatever quantities and to whatever levels it wants, is neither prevention nor containment.
All of this is dreadful policy for Washington. But it is a sellout of Jerusalem, one that can’t be rectified by some additional military funding or the usual token measures by which Democrats atavistically affirm their support for Israel. Chuck Schumer and other liberal fence-sitters will have their reputations and consciences stained forever if they let this one pass.
As for Israel, at least it will be able to say that it gave fair warning to the Democrats of the historic betrayal in which they are being asked by the president to participate. In the end, everyone is accountable to history. At moments like this, it’s better to be on the side of the brave.
Netanyahu said that Israel is no longer passive in the face of threats to its country and people.
“I can guarantee you this: The days when the Jewish people remain passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over,” he told lawmakers. “We are no longer scattered among the nations powerless to defend ourselves, we restored our sovereignty in our ancient home. And the soldiers who defend ourselves have boundless courage. For the first time in a hundred generations, we the Jewish people can defend ourselves.
“Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.”