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Netanyahu’s US Congress speech on Iran

Netanyahu's US Congress speech on Iran
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Update from AIJAC

March 6, 2105
Number 03/15 #01

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave his long-discussed and controversial address to the US Congress on Tuesday, Washington time (this was early Wednesday morning in Australia.) This Update deals with the effect and aftermath of that speech.

The full text of what Netanyahu said is below – video of it can be seen here.  We recommend it be read or viewed in full, not least because much of the media coverage in Australia of the speech has frankly been less than helpful – and sometimes even less than truthful – in helping media consumers understand the gist of what Netanyahu said.

An excellent general summary of Netanyahu’s speech comes from Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post.

The first analysis in this Update comes from David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel,  who argues that while the speech was impressive – he calls it the speech of Netanyahu’s life – it “caused devastating, presumably irrevocable damage to his relationship with President Barack Obama”. He notes that while the speech began with numerous expressions of gratitude to the US President for his support, the essence of it was a strong assault on the Obama Administration’s overall policies toward Iran – including not only the nuclear negotiations, but a wider refusal to confront or understand the Iranian goals and behaviour in terms of terrorism, expansionism, and ideology. Horovitz also notes that, despite the response from the White House claiming Netanyahu offered no alternative to their planned agreement, he did in fact do so, calling for the “P5+1 to recalibrate, to reconsider, and then to push for a better deal” backed up by tightened sanctions. He has a lot more to say, so to read all Horovitz’s analysis, CLICK HERE.

Next up is American law professor and widely published pundit Alan Dershowitz, who offers more discussion of Netanyahu’s alternative to the deal currently being proposed. Dershowitz notes that Netanyahu also requested that the sunset clause in the proposed deal – rumoured to be 10 years, after which Iran will be freed of current nuclear restrictions – should be contingent on Iran improving its behaviour in three areas – stopping its export of terrorism, its intrusion in the affairs of other countries, and its threats to the existence of Israel. Dershowitz argues that these ideas appear sensible and the ball is now in the court of the Obama Administration to explain whether there is a better way to prevent nuclear Iran from continuing such destablising activities into the future. For Dershowitz’s argument in full, CLICK HERE.

The final response is notable not only for its argument, but for who the author is – Ambassador Dennis Ross,  who was a senior advisor to President Obama on Iran policy during his first term. He notes that Netanyahu makes a strong case that the proposed nuclear deal will leave a break-out time for producing weapons-grade uranium that is too short, have an inadequate inspection regime, and worst of all, will permit Iran to build as much nuclear infrastructure as it wants when the deal expires, thus allowing Teheran to create nuclear weapons whenever it chooses. He argues that the Administration’s response – simply saying there is no better alternative – begs the question of whether such a deal is acceptable, and suggests a number of measures that could be taken which would address Netanyahu’s legitimate concerns. For this important look at the controversy from an Administration insider, CLICK HERE. Also arguing that Netanyahu has a good case that should be substantively addressed by the Administration is the Washington Post.

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Full Transcript: Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Congress Speech on the Iranian Nuclear Threat, 2015


Netanyahu’s devastating, irrevocable indictment of Obama

The PM knowingly sacrifices what remained of his relationship with the president in a bid to thwart ‘a very bad deal’ with Iran

Times of Israel, March 3, 2015

 

It was widely suggested, ahead of Benjamin Netanyahu’’s spectacularly controversial address to Congress on Tuesday, that the prime minister would have to deliver the speech of his life in order to justify the damage he would inevitably be causing to relations between his government and the Obama Administration. In the event, Netanyahu did deliver the speech of his life… and caused devastating, presumably irrevocable damage to his relationship with President Barack Obama.

On CNN, former administration official Martin Indyk called ties between the two leaders “toxic.” And that was moments before Netanyahu began his address. It’s hard to imagine the adjective that would best describe feelings in the Oval Office once the prime minister was done.

The next meeting between the two men will be fascinating to contemplate. And while Obama will hope even more fervently now that there will be no next meeting — that Netanyahu will fail to win reelection — the prime minister will not have done his electoral prospects any harm at all with this address. Many undecided Israelis will be asking themselves whether, in a moment of crisis, they can envisage Isaac Herzog holding the American parliament similarly mesmerized in support of a cause of passionate concern for Israel, and the answer will be no.

Although diplomatic in tone — and complete with deliberate Churchillian flourishes — “some change, some moderation,” he intoned of Iran under Hassan Rouhani — Netanyahu’’s speech was in essence a devastating assault on Obama. He began, dutifully, with expressions of appreciation for the president, and for everything the president has done for Israel. But he continued, for the vast majority of his address, to explain the profound misjudgment of Iran,— its ideology, its goals, and the immense danger it constitutes to Israel, the region, the United States, and the world — that lies at the heart of the “very bad deal” emerging from the US-led P5+1 negotiations. And thus, by extension, he was explaining the profound misjudgment of Iran at the core of Obama’s worldview and policies.

While Israelis broadly oppose the deal they see taking shape, and mistrust Obama when it comes to stopping a nuclear Iran, there was no consensus in Israel about the tactic of addressing Congress at this juncture, no little criticism of the move as an electoral gambit, two weeks before Israeli election day. And Netanyahu is indeed an ultra-sophisticated politician whose only regret about the timing of the speech was that it didn’t start two hours later — when it would have gone out live, albeit with the court-mandated five-minute delay, on the main 8 p.m. Israeli news broadcasts.

But Netanyahu’’s address had a clear practical goal as well. He was lobbying Congress, and lobbying the American public watching at home to pressure Congress, to assert its maximal capacity to thwart the progress of the deal that Obama has cooked up. While 50 or 60 legislators elected to absent themselves, the vast majority of Republicans and Democrats were there to nod sagely at Netanyahu’s elaboration of Iran’s rapacious, religiously driven ideology and territorial ambitions, to applaud, to jump to their feet, to be won over.

For all the cynicism and the political filtering over Netanyahu’’s motivations, furthermore, the prime minister is convinced, in his heart of hearts, that Iran is determined to advance its benighted ideology across the region and beyond. The prime minister is convinced, in his heart of hearts, that the deal taking shape will immunize the ayatollahs from any prospect of revolution from within or effective challenge from without. The deal “doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb,” he warned. “It paves Iran’s path to the bomb.”

And the cardinal fact is that the prime minister is convinced, in his heart of hearts, that the Islamist regime in Tehran is bent on the destruction of Israel. Ayatollah Khamenei “tweets that Israel must be annihilated,” Netanyahu wailed, repeating: “He tweets! You know, in Iran, there isn’t exactly free Internet. But he tweets in English that Israel must be destroyed.”

Although a first response to his speech from an unnamed White House official said that Netanyahu had offered “no concrete alternative” to the deal taking shape, and that his speech was “all rhetoric and no action,” and despite Obama’s subsequent elaborate defense of the US approach, the prime minister did offer an alternative. He urged the P5+1 to recalibrate, to reconsider, and then to push for a better deal. And “if Iran threatens to walk away from the table — and this often happens in a Persian bazaar — call their bluff,” he advised, the wise, wary Middle Easterner lecturing Obama and the other Western naifs. “They’ll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do.”

When “my long-time friend, John Kerry,” had confirmed to Netanyahu that “Iran could legitimately possess” 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium when the deal expires; when the terms taking shape would leave Iran a year or less from a break out to the bomb; when Iran could be relied upon to play “hide and cheat” with the inspectors; when Iran would be free under the deal to continue development of the missiles with which it could deliver nuclear weapons — when these and other dangers were being built into an Obama-pushed agreement, then, yes, the price of alienating the current US administration is quite clearly one that Netanyahu is willing to pay.

Of course it is. For Obama will be gone in two years. But the way Netanyahu sees it, the way Netanyahu spelled it out with such compelling detail and passion on Tuesday, if this kind of deal is finalized with Iran, the ayatollahs will be threatening us all, and will be capable of doing far more than just threaten, for the foreseeable future.

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The White House Must Respond to Netanyahu’s Important New Proposal


by Alan M. Dershowitz

Gatestone Institute, March 4, 2015

I was in the House gallery when Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a logical and compelling critique of the deal now on the table regarding Iran’s ambitions to obtain nuclear weapons. He laid out a new fact-based proposal that has shifted the burden of persuasion to the White House.

His new proposal is that “If the world powers are not prepared to insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal is signed, at the very least they should insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal expires.” His argument is that without such a precondition, the ten-year sunset provision paves, rather than blocks, the way to an Iranian nuclear arsenal, even if Iran were to continue to export terrorism, to bully nations in the region and to call for the extermination of Israel.

With logic that seems unassailable, Netanyahu has said that the alternative to this bad deal is not war, but rather “a better deal that Israel and its neighbors might not like, but which we could live with, literally.” Netanyahu then outlined his condition for a better deal: namely that before the sun is allowed to set on prohibiting Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the mullahs must first meet three conditions: stop exporting terrorism, stop intruding in the affairs of other countries, and stop threatening the existence of Israel.

If the mullahs reject these three reasonable conditions, it will demonstrate that they have no real interest in joining the international community and abiding by its rules. If they accept these conditions, then the sunset provision will not kick in automatically but will require that Iran demonstrate a willingness to play by the rules, before the rules allow it to develop nuclear weapons.

Instead of attacking the messenger, as the White House has done, the Administration now has an obligation to engage with Netanyahu in the marketplace of ideas, rather than in a cacophony of name-calling, and to respond to Netanyahu’s argument on its merit. There may be persuasive responses, but we have not yet heard them.

The decision to accept or reject a deal with Iran over its nuclear weapons program may be the most important foreign policy issue of the 21st century. Many members of Congress, perhaps most, agree with the Prime Minister of Israel, rather than with the President of the United States on this issue. Under our system of separation of powers, Congress is a fully co-equal branch of the government, and no major decision of the kind involved in this deal should be made over its opposition. Perhaps the President can persuade Congress to support this deal, but it must engage with, rather than ignore, our duly elected representatives of the people.

The Administration and its supporters, particularly those who boycotted the Prime Minister’s speech, focus on the so-called lack of protocol by which Netanyahu was invited by the Speaker of the House. Imagine, however, the same protocol for a speaker who favored rather than opposed the current deal. The White House and its supporters would be welcoming a Prime Minister who supported the President’s deal, as they did British Prime Minister David Cameron, when he was sent in to lobby the Senate in favor of the Administration’s position. So the protocol issue is largely a pretext. The Administration is upset more by the content of Netanyahu’s speech than by the manner in which he received the invitation.

This is too important an issue to get sidetracked by the formalities of protocol. The speech has now been given. It was a balanced speech that included praise for the President, for the Democrats, for Congress and for the American people. Prime Minister Netanyahu was at his diplomatic best. In my view, he was also at his substantive best in laying out the case against the Administration’s negotiating position with regard to Iran, especially the unconditional sunset provision.

The Administration must now answer one fundamental question: Why would you allow the Iranian regime to develop nuclear weapons in ten years, if at that time they were still exporting terrorism, bullying their Arab neighbors and threatening to exterminate Israel? Why not, at the very least, condition any “sunset” provision on a change in the actions of this criminal regime? The answer may be that we can’t get them to agree to this condition. If that is the case, then this is indeed a bad deal that is worse than no deal. It would be far better to increase economic sanctions and other pressures, rather than to end them in exchange for a mere postponement of Iran obtaining a nuclear arsenal.

There may be better answers, but the ball is now in Obama’s court to provide them, rather than to avoid answering Netanyahu’s reasonable questions by irrelevant answers about “protocol” and personal attacks on the messenger. Israel deserves better. The world deserves better. The American people deserve better. And Congress deserves better.

An unconditional sunset provision is an invitation to an Iran that continues to export terrorism, bully neighbors and threaten Israel — but with a nuclear arsenal to terrorize the entire world. This would be “a game changer”, to quote President Obama’s words from several years ago, when he promised that he would never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Suddenly, “never” has become “soon.” Congress should insist that any provision allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons after ten years must at the very least be conditioned on a significant change of behavior by the world’s most dangerous regime.

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Netanyahu Has Reasons To Be Worried

 

Dennis Ross

USA Today, March 4, 2015

Washington has left too many questions unanswered in a possible nuclear deal with Iran.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a strong case to the Congress about why he thinks the potential agreement with Iran on its nuclear program is a “very bad deal.” Leaving aside his fears that lifting sanctions will provide Iran more resources to pursue trouble-making in the Middle East, the prime minister worries that a deal that permits Iran to be a threshold nuclear state will not prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons but actually pave the way for it to do so.

Netanyahu believes that the break-out time for producing weapons-grade uranium will inevitably be too short — indeed, less than the year President Obama speaks about — and that inspections of the Iranian program will necessarily be too limited and, in any case, promise no action in the face of violations. Worse, Iran will be treated like Japan or the Netherlands after the agreement expires in 10-15 years, permitting it to build tens of thousands of centrifuges and enabling it to produce a weapon at a time of its choosing.

Accepting the mantra that “no deal is better than a bad deal,” Netanyahu offers the alternative of insisting on better terms and increasing the pressure on the Iranians until a more credible agreement is reached. He does not fear the Iranians walking away from the negotiating table because, in his words, they need the deal more than the U.S. and its partners.

While the Obama administration is unlikely to accept his argument that it should simply negotiate better and harder, it should not dismiss the concerns he raises about the emerging deal. Indeed, the administration argument that there is no better alternative than the deal it is negotiating begs the question of whether the prospective agreement is acceptable.

And, here, the administration needs to explain why the deal it is trying to conclude actually will prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons for the life-time of the agreement and afterwards. It needs to explain why the combination of the number and quality of centrifuges, their output, and the ship-out from Iran of enriched uranium will, in fact, ensure that the break-out time for the Iranians will not be less than one year. Either this combination adds up or it does not, but there should be an explicit answer to Netanyahu’s charge that Iran will be able to break-out much more quickly.

Similarly, there should be an answer on how the verification regime is going to work to ensure that we can detect, even in a larger nuclear program, any Iranian violation of the agreement. The issue of verification is critical not just because Iran’s past clandestine nuclear efforts prove it cannot be trusted but also because the administration has made a one year break-out time the key measure of success of the agreement. But we can only be certain that Iran will be one year away from being able to produce a bomb’s supply of weapons-grade uranium if we can detect what they are doing when they do it.

Obviously, detection is only part of the equation. We cannot wait to determine what we will do about violations when they happen. Iran must know in advance what the consequences are for violations, particularly if we want to deter them in the first place. And this clearly goes to the heart of Netanyahu’s concerns: if he had high confidence that we would impose harsh consequences in response to Iranian violations, including the use of force if we caught Iran dashing toward a weapon, he would be less fearful of the agreement he believes is going to emerge.

But he does not see that, and he fears as with past arms control agreements that we will seek to discuss violations and not respond to them until it is too late. So the administration should address this fear and prove it means what it says by spelling out different categories of violations and the consequences for each — and then seek congressional authorization to empower this president and his successors to act on these consequences.

If applied also to Iranian moves toward a nuclear weapon after the expiration of the deal, the administration would truly be answering the most significant of the concerns that Netanyahu raised. Maybe then, this episode of U.S.-Israeli tension would be overcome.

Dennis Ross, the counselor and William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute, served as a senior Middle East advisor to President Obama from 2009 to 2011. This article was made possible in part by support from the Irwin Levy Family Program on the U.S.-Israel Strategic Relationship.

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