The Truth about Netanyahu, Iran, and Congress

“It’s about Iran, stupid!” In a nutshell, that phrase sums up the discussion of whether or not Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu should go ahead and speak to a joint session of Congress. That statement is as true for many of his detractors as it is for supporters of the Prime Minister. Supporters believe that Netanyahu needs to shout from the rooftops about the dangers posed by a “bad deal” with Iran, while many of the critics of the proposed speech are concerned that, because of the politics involved, attention is being diverted away from addressing the issue and may make it more difficult for Democrats to confront the President over a policy with which they themselves are concerned.

Of additional concern for progressive Israel advocates is the vitriol and pressure leveled on Democratic members of Congress to take a public stand on this issue which could both harm their support from benefactors and harm their ongoing support for Israel. While the latter impact of such a speech may be limited, many supporters of Israel will consider a boycott of the Prime Minister’s speech to be a boycott of Israel, unforgivable. Right now, it appears that only a relatively small number of Democratic Congresspersons will boycott and there are good reasons that the number remains small.

Initial charges of a breech in protocol have been proven unfounded and retracted. There was no protocol violation in either the extension of an invitation to PM Netanyahu by the Speaker of the House, nor in its acceptance. The White House was notified prior to both steps in keeping with protocol. Traditional practice is that the White House is consulted. This allows the White House to convince Congressional leaders not to issue an invitation if there are issues about which Congressional leaders do not know that may impact their decision.

If the charge that the invitation is insulting because the President and Prime Minister have fundamental disagreements over how to address Iran’s nuclear program, then I suggest that we have a much bigger problem to address. It is simply not acceptable to launch a boycott of Israel or the Israeli Prime Minister specifically because of partisan politics. Would either party ever boycott a speech by the leader of Britain or France who happened to be on the other side of the political spectrum from them? Of course not. Nor is it acceptable to boycott the Israeli Prime Minister because you don’t like what he has to say. That would be a boycott of Israel every much as attempts to divest from Israeli companies because of Israeli policies is such a boycott.

Finally, such a boycott now is not provided the cover of the argument that the speech should not be given due to the proximity of the Israeli elections. Israeli election officials have cleared the speech and issued the Prime Minister guidelines so as to avoid accusations of electioneering.

The issue is truly about Iran, my friends. It is about the fact that information about the negotiations that has been released so far is frightening in its implications for Israeli security and for realistic hopes to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. In fact, if what was revealed by the Associated Press on February 3rd is accurate, the pending deal is extremely dangerous for Israel and for us all, amounting to an abdication of the responsibility to fulfill the spirit of promises, if not their letter, made both to Israel and to the American people. If these currently proposed parameters of such a deal were well understood by Israelis there would be little or no support for the deal among Israelis along with increased demands for Israel’s Prime Minister to speak out against it.

The reports are that negotiators may have already agreed to allow Iran to keep 10,000 known centrifuges spinning. This is after previously promising not to allow Iran to keep more than a couple of thousand and in spite of the fact that, because nuclear fuel is readily available and may be freely donated to Iran by several nations who have volunteered to do so, no centrifuges are even necessary for Iran to have a peaceful nuclear program. The more operating centrifuges, the faster enrichment may take place and the faster weapons grade material may be acquired.

Among the concessions currently being discussed include the dialing back of efficiency of the centrifuges, something that could easily be altered going forward. Iran would be mere months away from acquiring the necessary materials should they choose to do so by simply reversing the reductions in efficiency and could do so on a substantial number of centrifuges in a matter of weeks, allowing it to move forward with enrichment without the outside world even knowing.

With a political process that operates at a snail’s pace and an America highly unlikely to be able to quickly approve and arrange necessary military operations, such a delay in enrichment capability is not a sufficient guarantee even with fully effective and free monitoring of all suspect sites. History has taught us clearly that Iran could easily wait until just before an inspection to protest it for some reason, then conduct negotiations for a period of months about the inspection, and then accomplish its goals with little or no ability of inspectors to even see what was happening. Would the United States conduct air strikes and ground operations in an immediate response to any such breech in the deal without negotiations first? Promising to do exactly that would be an essential guarantee. Yet it is almost impossible to fathom that the United State would promise that or that anyone would believe the promise.

What we see in the proposed agreement as discussed in the Associated Press article is not a means of preventing Iran from advancing its nuclear weapons program, but is instead a means of escorting them to the threshold free of threat or sanctions in the hope that Iran will not subsequently choose to violate the agreement. It is indeed an agreement worthy of comparison to seeking “Peace in Our Time,” clearly allowing the advancement of a nation taking every opportunity to act in conflict with that premise. Let us hope that it too doesn’t lead to the deaths of millions and another genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of those pledged to commit one.

I may be jumping the gun on this one. The President may conclude a better deal than the one presented by the Associated Press. There may be an agreement that substantially limits the number and efficiency of centrifuges, but so far reports are not of such an agreement. There may be provisions to declare any breech of the agreement to be considered an act of war with immediate consequences to follow, but I can’t imagine that such language would be found in it, nor that action would actually be forthcoming if it were.

Say what you will about whether or not PM Netanyahu should continue with plans to deliver a speech to Congress, a speech likely to be boycotted by only a small percentage of the members of one party. I certainly have found myself wavering back and forth about whether or not it would be the best decision for PM Netanyahu to go through with the presentation. If such an agreement as described above is in fact what is being discussed now between the United States and Iran, it must be opposed strongly. Benjamin Netanyahu should not be the only Israeli or Jewish leader screaming from the rooftops at the US Congress to act against it and progressive Democrats must be among them.

Ultimately, the real question is not whether or not Benjamin Netanyahu can prevent a bad Iran deal with a speech to Congress. Instead, the question is “Will anyone else???”

This entry was posted in We Are For Israel and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Truth about Netanyahu, Iran, and Congress

  1. pmchai says:

    Netanyahu’sspeech PhilCohen The press is saturated with talk of Netanyahu’sspeech to a joint session of Congress next month. Accepting an invitation fromJohn Boehner, as of this writing Bibi will hold forth on the “bad deal” Americaappears willing to cut with Iran over its nuclear program. Somany questions have been generated from this invitation and its radicallynegative reception from the White House. How will Bibi’s speech affectrelations between America and Israel? Will Bibi use this speech to his political advantage, with Israeli electionsso close to the date of the speech? Did Boeher inform the White House of his intention to extend theinvitation? Is this a breach ofdiplomatic protocol? Since several Democratic members of Congress haveannounced they will not attend, will Bibi have to mend fences with Democrats? Severalpeople have suggested that, given all of the complications this speech asgenerated, Bibi should a) Cancel the speech altogether; b) speak after Israelielections; c) bring Yitzhak Herzog, of Zionist Camp and his main competitor,with him to show a unified Israeli front; d) speak to a smaller, invitedcohort. Among those suggestingthat this speech ought to be cancelled are the ADL’s Abraham Foxman and JonathanTobin of Commentary, certainly neither of whom is an Israel basher. Tobin’s argument is worth a hearing. Atissue is not whether Bibi is a good speaker, a speaker of the truth, as ifspeaking the truth in the midst of this muddle will be sufficient. What the White House has succeeded indoing is to deflect the real conversation, viz., opposing the appeasement ofIran and allowing Iran to become a threshold nuclear state, to the appearanceof breach of protocol that has become the reality of splintering bi-partisansupport of Israel, a possible fracturing of the pro-Israel community in theUnited States. Tobin says, “Were a Netanyahu speech on Iranthe sort of event that could, by itself, transcend this political mess andchange the nature of the discussion about the nuclear issue, it might bejustified. But despite the rather profligate comparisons between the primeminister and Churchill, that is an argument that doesn’t hold water.” ( Tobinlays the source of this balagansquarely where it belongs, at the president’s feet. Netanyahu has been out-maneuvered by a man whose dislike ofthe Israeli prime minister has long become legend. Onthe other hand, the “bad deal” Obama may be in the process of cutting withIran, which would then have a strong, perhaps decisive, influence on theupcoming talks between Iran and the P5+1, may be predicated on a terriblejudgment that seems to prevail in the White House. This was brought to light last week in an interview onIsrael Radio with Major-General Amos Yadlin, who “warned this week… that there is a school of thought in theObama administration that says the US should fashion Iran as its new MiddleEastern fulcrum.” ( Thisis not “bad”; this is terrible. And, as much as I personally would like to deny this claim, it appearsto be the case. Obama’s behavior,since the beginning of his administration appears to bear this out. The notionthat the U.S. should develop a rapprochement with Iran such that Iran becomesthe American agent in the Middle East is wrong in so many ways that it’s nearlyimpossible to believe that that’s how Obama thinks. Nearly, as my readof the evidence tells me it’s true. Obama believes that it’s possible to bring Iran under the Americansphere of influence, that Iran will suspend nuclear production. But more, thatIran under the mullahs can actually be a partner with America. IfObama’s intends to build this dangerous partnership, the community that opposeshim has to be as strong and united as possible. And, unfortunately, as much as I’d like to see Netanyahuspeak, the downsides of that speech outweigh its advantages. We are at a very dangerous moment inhistory, and the side that wants to thwart a very clever and dangerous regimein Persia needs to be strong and united.

    • Phil, I am not convinced that giving this speech to Congress is either essential or advisable. There are certainly arguments both ways. Don’t count me among those insisting that he speak. That said, I don’t see sufficient outcry over reports concerning the details of the proposed Iran deal that have leaked. I don’t see substantial Democratic support for Kirk-Menendez in the face of Presidential opposition, something that would be essential if the President himself is promoting the Iran deal that is creating concerns. I like you am not sure that a Netanyahu speech is going to get that done, but neither am I sure what might.

  2. pmchai says:

    I agree. My piece, following Jonathan Tobin’s argument, suggests that the damage to too many pieces of a fragile relationship can be damaged. Yeah, what might get the job done…that’s the problem, if Obama has really gone over to the dark side.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s