In his speech to a joint session of Congress that sparked weeks of controversy, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu portrayed the Iranian regime’s nuclear program and the deals surrounding it as a major threat to the United States, Israel, and the world. Calling on U.S. lawmakers to block the “very bad” agreement with Tehran that he said would preserve the regime’s ability to produce enriched uranium for nuclear weapons in a short time frame, the Israeli leader said Iran’s autocracy threatens world peace and must be opposed. Critics of the speech noted that Netanyahu and others have a long history of supposedly exaggerating the danger of Iran’s nuclear program. In Congress, the Israeli leader’s warnings about the alleged threat were warmly received. Still, Netanyahu’s speech drew impassioned responses from supporters and opponents alike.
Proponents of the Israeli prime minister’s view that Iran’s Islamist regime is on the cusp of achieving nuclear weapons applauded his efforts to supposedly protect Israel and the world from the dangers of a WMD-armed dictatorship infamous for oppression and terrorism. Netanyahu critics, meanwhile, slammed the Israeli leader as an alleged war monger trying to sucker the United States into what they contend could potentially prove to be World War III. In Congress, while lawmakers are largely united in their support for Israel, members are polarized about the negotiations surrounding Iran’s nuclear program, with some Democrats urging patience as Obama tries to negotiate a deal with Tehran. Among Israeli critics of the prime minister, including retired military and intelligence leaders, more than a few even claimed Netanyahu’s efforts were somehow strengthening Iran.
In his speech, Netanyahu, who has a long history of warning about Tehran’s nuclear program being used for weapons, compared the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Islamic State currently rampaging through Iraq and Syria. However, he suggested that Iran’s regime, which is currently fighting ISIS, is more dangerous than the terrorist group for a number of reasons, and that their fight amongst each other was mostly about which outfit would lead global Islam. “The difference is that ISIS is armed with butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube, whereas Iran could soon be armed with intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs,” Netanyahu told U.S. lawmakers. “We must always remember — I'll say it one more time — the greatest danger facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons.... We can't let that happen.”
According to Netanyahu and other opponents of the negotiations between Obama and Tehran on the nuclear issue, the proposed agreement has two major flaws. “That deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons,” he said. “It would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons, lots of them.” Two major “concessions to Iran” in particular were highlighted by the prime minister.
The first concession, he said, is that Tehran would be allowed to keep its “nuclear infrastructure, providing it with a short break-out time to the bomb.” He said intelligence estimates by the U.S. government and Israeli authorities put the timeline for developing weapons with the infrastructure already in place at a year or less. U.S. intelligence agencies have consistently stated that Iran has not made a decision to build a bomb, and the United Nations atomic outfit has stated that Iran has been fulfilling its international commitments. The prime minister, though, argued that relying on “international inspectors” to stop Iran would be futile, drawing parallels with the Communist regime enslaving North Korea.
The second major concern with the Obama-Iran deal highlighted by Netanyahu involves the fact that most of the restrictions on the nuclear program would expire in 10 years. “Now, a decade may seem like a long time in political life, but it's the blink of an eye in the life of a nation,” the prime minister said. “It's a blink of an eye in the life of our children. We all have a responsibility to consider what will happen when Iran's nuclear capabilities are virtually unrestricted and all the sanctions will have been lifted. Iran would then be free to build a huge nuclear capacity that could produce many, many nuclear bombs.” The Iranian regime’s intercontinental ballistic missile program also came under attack by Netanyahu, suggesting the systems could be used to deliver nuclear warheads to any part of the United States.
“That's why this deal is so bad,” the prime minister said. “It doesn't block Iran's path to the bomb; it paves Iran's path to the bomb. So why would anyone make this deal? Because they hope that Iran will change for the better in the coming years, or they believe that the alternative to this deal is worse? Well, I disagree.” Netanyahu argued that Iran’s “radical regime” would not change for the better after the deal, citing its 36 years in power as evidence, as well as its more recent “gobbling up” of various Arab nations such as Yemen. “Would Iran fund less terrorism when it has mountains of cash with which to fund more terrorism?” he also asked after giving details about various terror groups backed by Tehran. He said as well that other nations in the Middle East would pursue nuclear weapons if Iran managed to obtain some, potentially sparking “a nuclear arms race in the most dangerous part of the planet.”
Before lifting sanctions and removing restrictions on Tehran, Netanyahu argued, the world should “demand” three things from the regime. “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…. If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country.” He urged lawmakers and policymakers worldwide to keep up the pressure and reject the current agreement being negotiated in favor of a “much better deal” that would prevent a nuclear-armed Tehran, “a nuclearized Middle East and the horrific consequences of both to all of humanity.”
Whether or not the United States goes along with Netanyahu’s proposals or the deal being negotiated by Obama or neither, the Israeli leader vowed that his nation would defend itself. Drawing comparisons with the genocidal actions of the National Socialist regime in Germany, Netanyahu said Israel would resist Iran. “I can guarantee you this: The days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over,” he said. “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 our home have boundless courage. For the first time in 100 generations, we, the Jewish people, can defend ourselves. This is why — this is why, as a prime minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.”
Despite lambasting the proposed deal with Tehran, Netanyahu did have plenty of praise for Obama and the U.S. government more broadly. He thanked Obama for all that “he has done for Israel,” including opposing anti-Israel resolutions at the UN, strengthening intelligence sharing, providing military assistance, and more. Rejecting the notion that his visit was “political,” Netanyahu said he was speaking to Congress because he believes Iran’s alleged quest for nuclear weapons “could well threaten the survival of my country and the future of my people.”
The prime minister also offered insight into the 4,000-year history of the Jewish people and the repeated attempts to destroy them. Addressing concerns expressed by some anti-Zionist Jews who oppose the state of Israel, Netanyahu also suggested that Iran was not merely a threat to the Jewish state, but to all Jews worldwide. “For those who believe that Iran threatens the Jewish state, but not the Jewish people, listen to Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, Iran's chief terrorist proxy,” Netanyahu stated. “He said: ‘If all the Jews gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of chasing them down around the world.’”
However, the Iranian regime is not just a “Jewish problem,” Netanyahu argued. Like the Nazi regime before it, Tehran was a threat to the whole world, the Israeli leader claimed. “To understand just how dangerous Iran would be with nuclear weapons, we must fully understand the nature of the regime,” he said. “Iran's goons in Gaza, its lackeys in Lebanon, its revolutionary guards on the Golan Heights are clutching Israel with three tentacles of terror. Backed by Iran, Assad is slaughtering Syrians. Backed by Iran, Shiite militias are rampaging through Iraq. Backed by Iran, Houthis are seizing control of Yemen, threatening the strategic straits at the mouth of the Red Sea. Along with the Straits of Hormuz, that would give Iran a second choke-point on the world's oil supply.” Netanyahu also noted that the regime executes homosexuals, persecutes Christians, and jails journalists.
In an article about whether Netanyahu may be “crying wolf” about the alleged threat of a nuclear-armed Iranian regime, The New American’s Jack Kenny pointed out that the Israeli leader has been warning of an imminent WMD for many years. Netanyahu also warned of late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s WMDs and promoted U.S. intervention there, with the disastrous consequences of that war now plain to see. “As the leader of a sovereign nation that has had a long and enduring friendship with the United States, Netanyahu merits and has received a respectful audience in Washington,” wrote Kenny. “But neither his predictions nor his prescriptions have been a reliable guide to peace and stability in the Middle East.”
Either way, sanctions have long been viewed as tantamount to an act of war. Congress ought to very carefully consider whether the hypothetical threat of a nuclear-armed Iranian regime justifies the danger of potentially starting a real war. As a sovereign nation, Israel has every right to take whatever actions it feels are necessary to its defense. Considering the past history of U.S. interventionism and the wisdom of America’s Founders, though, unless there is a clear and present threat to the national security of the United States — and so far, that is not clear — the U.S. Congress ought to pursue a foreign policy of non-intervention.
Photo of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: AP Images