Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress on March 3rd is a historic occasion. He is speaking directly to the elected representatives of the American people about the existential threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iranian Islamic theocracy. This threat is not only to the Jewish people, but to the entire free world. In that sense, Mr. Netanyahu is channeling Winston Churchill, whose warnings about the dangers of the rising threat of Nazi Germany were ignored and even mocked until the United Kingdom was on the brink of destruction.
Churchill’s prescient words following Neville Chamberlain’s Munich appeasement apply equally today to the current negotiations with Iran and the concessions the Obama administration is considering: “And do not suppose that this is the end. This is the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup.”
President Obama is channeling Neville Chamberlain. He appears to want peace with Iran at any price. Even the usually liberal Washington Post stated in an editorial last month that “a process that began with the goal of eliminating Iran’s potential to produce nuclear weapons has evolved into a plan to tolerate and temporarily restrict that capability.”
For example, at the start of the negotiations, the United States sought to leave Iran with no more than 1,500 operational centrifuges. Now, according to leaked reports, Iran may be permitted to retain as much as 6500 operational centrifuges. A former CIA deputy director who served under President Obama, Michael Morell, stated recently: “If you are going to have a nuclear weapons program, 5,000 is pretty much the number you need.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu has reason to be worried, and is evidently frustrated that his warnings, like Churchill’s before World War II, have been systematically ignored by the Obama administration. Thus, he wants the chance to take his case directly to the co-equal legislative branch of the U.S. government. Obama’s response has been infantile. His administration has sunk to petty name-calling because Obama feels insulted by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to accept Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address Congress without running it by the White House first. The insults reached a new low last week when National Security Advisor Susan Rice accused the prime minister of engaging in conduct that is “destructive” to the historically close relationship between Israel and the United States. The only real destructiveness to the relationship is coming from Obama himself, whose anti-Israel bias was already evident in the early days of his first term as president and has accelerated ever since.
Prime Minister Netanyahu provided an inkling of his speech to Congress in remarks he made on Monday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). First, he made clear that his speech “is not intended to show any disrespect to President Obama or the esteemed office that he holds. I have great respect for both.” Unfortunately, however, Obama confuses Mr. Netanyahu’s speaking the truth to the American people with disrespect for Obama personally.
Second, Mr. Netanyahu emphasized that his congressional speech is “not intended to inject Israel into the American partisan debate.” Unfortunately, however, Obama tends to bring his Chicago-style partisanship to every debate, even though there is bi-partisan concern in Congress over the direction the negotiations with Iran are taking. Indeed, Obama is not only quarreling with Israel. He is quarreling with Congress. He has threatened to veto any bill that would impose more sanctions on Iran if the current talks fail. He is also intent on freezing Congress out of a meaningful role in connection with any agreement that may be reached with Iran as a result of the current negotiations.
The purpose of his congressional speech, the prime minister said in his remarks to AIPAC, is to highlight Iran’s threat to the very existence of Israel if it were to ever possess nuclear weapons. He wants to remind the American people of the kind of dangerous rogue regime Iran really is. As he told AIPAC, “Iran envelopes the entire world with its tentacles of terror. This is what Iran is doing now without nuclear weapons. Imagine what Iran would do with nuclear weapons.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed that Israel would not remain passive in the face of such mortal danger to its very existence. “I plan to speak about an Iranian regime that is threatening to destroy Israel, that’s devouring country after country in the Middle East, that’s exporting terror throughout the world and that is developing, as we speak, the capacity to make nuclear weapons, lots of them,” he told AIPAC. “And this same Iran vows to annihilate Israel. If it develops nuclear weapons, it would have the means to achieve that goal. We must not let that happen.”
Too many times in the past, the Jewish state’s prime minister said, the Jewish people were defenseless against enemies determined to annihilate them. They had no place to go where they could seek protection. After the creation of the Jewish state in the wake of Hitler’s Holocaust, the “days when the Jewish people are passive in the face of threats to annihilate us, those days are over,” the prime minister declared. “Today in our sovereign state of Israel, we defend ourselves. And being able to defend ourselves, we ally with others, most importantly, the United States of America, to defend our common civilization against common threats.”
Mr. Netanyahu said that his disagreement with the Obama administration was over the best means to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear arms power. The Israeli leader is not against negotiations per se. He is against a bad, unverifiable deal with the Iranian regime. The reason is simple. Netanyahu does not trust the Iranian leaders to keep their word. Neither do most Americans. According to a Gallup poll taken from February 8 to February 11, 2015, “more than eight in 10 Americans view Iran unfavorably (84%).”
One thing that Iran does seem determined to do is to annihilate Israel and ultimately the United States. Just last year, while the negotiations with Iran were in progress, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who must sign off on any nuclear deal, tweeted that “This barbaric, wolflike & infanticidal regime of #Israel which spares no crime has no cure but to be annihilated.” Last year, Khamenei also threatened the United States with continuing jihad until it is defeated: “Battle and jihad are endless because evil and its front continue to exist…This battle will only end when the society can get rid of the oppressors’ front with America at the head of it, which has expanded its claws on human mind, body and thought.”
Sadly, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry appear to be all too trusting of Iran’s intentions. They claim that the Obama administration should be given the benefit of the doubt in the negotiations because Iran has already shown its good faith in purportedly complying with the interim agreement currently in place. However, the truth is that Iran is already showing the opposite — its word means very little.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which would be tasked with conducting widespread inspections to verify Iran’s compliance with any final agreement, has just re-confirmed that Iran is currently refusing to cooperate with IAEA inspectors in violation of the commitments it made in the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action:
“Concerning safeguards implementation in Iran, the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement. However, the Agency is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.
The Agency continues to undertake monitoring and verification in relation to the nuclear-related measures set out in the Joint Plan of Action agreed between Iran and the E3+3 countries.
Iran has yet to provide explanations that enable the Agency to clarify two outstanding practical measures agreed in May 2014 in the third step of the Framework for Cooperation. Iran also has still to propose new practical measures.
The Agency remains ready to accelerate the resolution of all outstanding issues under the Framework for Co-operation. This can be realised by increased co-operation by Iran and by the timely provision of access to all relevant information, documentation, sites, material and personnel in Iran, as requested by the Agency.”
Thus, Prime Minister Netanyahu has good reason to be skeptical of an agreement with Iran that would leave some of its uranium enrichment capacity intact and would rely on Iranian cooperation with the IAEA to verify its compliance with the terms of any final agreement. And he is understandably not willing to risk the very existence of his country on the word of a regime that has proven repeatedly its deceit and state sponsorship of terrorism.
Nevertheless, while acknowledging his disagreement with the Obama administration over the concessions that the administration appears ready to make, Mr. Netanyahu tried to put the disagreement into perspective in his remarks to AIPAC. He pointed to past disagreements between the U.S. and Israel going back to Israel’s founding. He added that despite such differences “we pray and hope and aspire for that same better world; because the values that unite us are much stronger than the differences that divide us; values like liberty, equality, justice, tolerance, compassion.”
The prime minister got a bit more colloquial when, speaking about the United States and Israel, he told AIPAC that “We’re like a family. We’re practically mishpocha.” And as with any family, there will be some inevitable differences of opinion.
Prime Minister Netanyahu explained that Israel may see things a bit differently than the U.S. government because “Israel lives in the world’s most dangerous neighborhood.” “While Israel is strong,” he said, “it’s much more vulnerable” to attacks than the far stronger United States. “American leaders worry about the security of their country,” he added. “Israeli leaders worry about the survival of their country.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress is likely to elaborate on these themes. The prime minister will not shy away from speaking the truth about the grave risks from a bad deal with Iran, a regime that will exploit every loophole and insist on removal of sanctions while maintaining the capacity to ultimately develop and deliver nuclear weapons at a time of its choosing. However, we can also expect the prime minister to seek to transcend the current disagreements over the best way to deal with Iran by reminding his American audience of the overriding commonality of basic values between Israel and the United States and their common stakes in the struggle against Islamic barbarism.
While most of the members of Congress are expected to be in attendance to hear what Prime Minister Netanyahu has to say, at least 43 Democrats, including 5 Senators, have indicated their intention to boycott the speech, according to The Hill. They are taking their cue from the Obama administration. Vice President Joe Biden, who is also the president of the Senate, will stay away. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are refusing to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu, on the flimsy excuse that they do not want to be seen as interfering with the Israeli election taking place in a couple of weeks.
Ethics-challenged Rep. Charles Rangel (N.Y.) explained his boycott of the speech by declaring on MSNBC that “I’m offended as an American.” Americans should be offended that Rep. Rangel is still a sitting congressman.
Senator Patrick Leahy (Vt.) called the timing of the speech a “tawdry and high-handed stunt.” Isn’t the content of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech far more important than the logistics concerning how it came about? By staying away, Senator Leahy is putting on his own stunt and embarrassing the leader of one of our closest allies, in order to soothe Obama’s hurt feelings.
Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.), the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who voted against additional U.S. funding for the Iron Dome Missile Defense system at the end of last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, is also boycotting the speech as are other members of the Congressional Black Caucus. He is reported to have been one of the Democratic congressional leaders in opposition to the speech in the first place.
Rep. Ellison, a Muslim, thinks that our problems with Iran and the rest of the Muslim world are largely America’s own fault. Several years ago, for example, he denounced American “neocolonial” foreign policy and expressed understanding of Iran’s antipathy towards the United States at an event sponsored by the Network of Spiritual Progressives, the same left-wing organization that has just published a full-page ad denouncing Prime Minister Netanyahu in the New York Times.
The ad led with the headline “No, Mr. Netanyahu – you do not speak for American Jews and The American People Do Not Want a War with Iran.” The Network of Spiritual Progressives ad accused Prime Minister Netanyahu of seeking to “derail negotiations with Iran” over its nuclear enrichment program and pursuing a “strategy of domination over those identified as ‘evil others.’”
This canard is straight out of the Obama administration’s talking points. Indeed, the Network of Spiritual Progressives ad dutifully parroted the position of the Obama administration. The choice, as posited by the Obama administration and by its supporters in Congress and leftwing organizations such as the Network of Spiritual Progressives, is between war against Iran and a negotiated deal with Iran on the best terms Iran is willing to offer us. That is false. The real choice at this stage is between an effective agreement under which Iran will be required to truly disable its nuclear enrichment capability subject to unfettered international verification inspections, preventing Iran from ever being able to obtain a nuclear bomb, and, in the absence of such an agreement by a date certain, the ramping up of sanctions to destroy Iran’s economic infrastructure. If Iran were to enter into such an agreement, sanctions would be removed in phases keyed to verification of Iran’s compliance. However, Iran is insisting that all sanctions be lifted as a precondition to entering into any agreement. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on March 2nd that “If they want an agreement, sanctions must go… We believe all sanctions must be lifted.” Iran also refuses to include its missile systems as part of the negotiations while continuing to stonewall the IAEA on allowing an investigation of Iran’s alleged past nuclear weapons development programs.
Just as Barack Obama lied about his signature domestic achievement by saying that everyone could keep their existing insurance plans and doctors under Obamacare, Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry are lying about their intention to prevent Iran from producing a nuclear bomb. To the contrary, the administration is trying to push what appears to be a loophole-ridden framework agreement. Such an agreement would prematurely lift major elements of the sanctions, which will be irreversible, while allowing Iran an eventual pathway to achieving a nuclear arms capability after a set period, along with long-range missile delivery systems. Even then, any verification will depend on Iranian cooperation, which has already proven to be a charade. Kicking the can down the road will not protect anyone other than the Iranian jihadists.
Prime Minister Netanyahu may not be able to stop this appeasement in time. But he deserves credit for trying, not only for Israel’s sake but for the sake of the entire free world.