Open thread: Leader of the free world speaks to joint session of Congress

By which, of course, we mean Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will deliver his much-anticipated speech to a joint session of Congress at 11 am ET. Eli Lake reports that Netanyahu will focus attention on the uranium centrifuges, and their capacity to allow an Iranian nuclear-weapon breakout under the conditions allowed by the deal:

Israel and many observers say leaving this infrastructure around is a recipe for disaster because the centrifuges can easily be turned back on once the agreement expires. As Netanyahu told an audience at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Monday, “Israel and the United States agree that Iran should not have nuclear weapons, but we disagree on the best way to prevent Iran from developing those weapons.”

If Netanyahu decides to elaborate on this point, he will risk the wrath of the Obama administration. Indeed, it looks like top administration officials are already laying the groundwork for painting Netanyahu’s speech as a betrayal.

We’ll return to the “betrayal” part in a moment. Omri Ceren has a few thoughts about what Netanyahu may argue:

If the focus is on what happens during the deal, it’ll be about the number of centrifuges that Iran will be allowed to keep running. The current rumored number is 6,500, which would probably mean an Iranian breakout window even shorter than the administration’s new scaled-back 1 year goal. Robert Einhorn, the former Obama point man on Iran negotiations, calculates that 6,000 centrifuges plus 1500kg LEU equals at best a 6 month-12 month breakout window.

But BV says that the emphasis is going to be on what it means for after the deal. That’s going to be about the total number of centrifuges left in place during the deal, that Iran can turn 10 years from now when the deal expires. If they’re not forced to dismantle anything, they’ll have 19,000 first-generation centrifuges and another 1,000 more advanced centrifuges ready to turn on. They won’t have to rebuild anything, which would give the international community time to stop the build-up. They’ll just have to make a decision to go nuclear, and that’ll be that.

That scenario is exactly why the administration used to insist that Iran meet its international obligations and fully suspend its uranium enrichment program. Even after talks started, the administration used to insist that Iran would not be left with a large-scale program in place, which they could just turn on at any time[.]

The speech has piqued so much interest that dozens of Democrats plan to flee the building when Netanyahu takes the dais, even though some of them warn that they’ve wandered into a Republican trap:

The Democrats who plan to skip Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint meeting of Congress on Tuesday morning say their absence has nothing to do with their regard for Israel. But the furor surrounding the politically polarized address has many in the party wondering whether damage has already been done.

“The speaker’s goal is to politicize Israel and to send out the word loud and clear that Democrats distrust Israel and Democrats aren’t pro-Israel,” said Rep. Brad Sherman, a Jewish Democrat who is attending the speech. “Boehner has successfully driven a wedge to at least some degree between the Democratic party and Israel.”

Both parties have lashed out in the months since House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to the Capitol. Democrats are incensed that Boehner extended the invitation without consulting the White House, for a speech they believe is sure to undermine President Obama’s negotiations with Iran and instead push for sanctions. But Republicans have returned fire, pointing to the dozens of Democrats boycotting the speech as unwilling to hear the message of one of the country’s closest allies.

They’re unwilling to listen to Netanyahu, but they’re more than happy to lecture him:

A group of Democratic lawmakers boycotting Tuesday’s congressional appearance by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plan on issuing a public response to the Israeli leader’s speech, a spokesman said Monday.

Representatives Steve Cohen and John Yarmuth will issue the response the controversial speech, in which Netanyahu is expected to make the case against a nuclear deal between the US and Iran.

The rebuttal will also be attended by Representatives David Price, Jan Schakowsky, Lloyd Doggett, Earl Blumenauer, Betty McCollum, Rep. Peter Welch and others.

That should turn out well for Democrats. If they’re not willing to even listen to Netanyahu, what makes them think they have standing to issue a response to what he says? At least Republicans giving a State of the Union response have the courtesy to actually sit through Barack Obama’s speech. Besides, for a party that wants to argue that it’s Boehner who’s being partisan, these Democrats are awfully quick to grasp at the equal-partisan-time ring, no?

Speaking of lectures, the semi-retired President and his team issued one to Netanyahu after his AIPAC speech, warning him not to reveal any confidential information from the negotiations with Iran:

Earnest warned Netanyahu not to divulge any top secret information about the negotiations that the U.S. may have shared with Israelis, who have received detailed briefings on the negotiations. “Releasing that information would betray the trust that exists between two allies,” Earnest said. He accused Israel of trying to “cherry pick” negative pieces of information gleaned from those briefings in an attempt to undermine the process.

Well, perhaps Obama should meet with Netanyahu before the speech to go over what he intends to say. Oh, sorry, Obama has a presidential snit scheduled all this week, doesn’t he?

Meanwhile, Americans’ view of Israel as an ally have improved considerably over the last four years, according to a new CBS News poll. A majority of 51% now see Israel as a full-fledged ally, up ten points over the period, putting them third in the list of America’s closest friends:

CBS News asked Americans about a number of countries, and of those asked about in the survey, only Great Britain and France are viewed more favorably than Israel.

Majorities across the political spectrum hold positive views of Israel, but Republicans (64 percent) are more inclined than either Democrats (47 percent) or independents (46 percent) to consider Israel an ally of the United States.

Combining the “ally” and “friendly” responses, Israel gets a 79% favorability rating from the American electorate. That’s far below what Obama and Democrats get these days, as exemplified in the last election as well as polls stretching back more than two years. The damage done from their collective fit of pique won’t hurt Netanyahu, Israel, or the Republicans who invited the PM to speak as a function of an independent and co-equal branch of government rather than as a subsidiary of Obama Inc. Good luck with this strategy.

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Jazz Shaw 8:01 PM on December 06, 2022