Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his speech to US Congress on March 3, 2015, with US Speaker of the House John Boehner and President pro tempore of the US Senate Orrin Hatch applauding behind him.
Saying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the US Congress was well-received would be an understatement. Netanyahu was interrupted dozens of times with applause, many of them standing ovations. The several dozen Democratic lawmakers who decided not to attend were hardly missed. US Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, who has not been well, made a special effort to attend.
Congress’s ecstatic reception of the speech was not just a function of Netanyahu’s virtuoso orating – though it was undoubtedly a contributing factor. There is also a deep recognition in Congress that the US and Israel share core values and aspirations and that the two countries stand for the same basic ideals.
A large part of Netanyahu’s speech was a reprise of what have become well-worn criticisms of the nuclear deal with Iran, whose essential contents have become known due to leaks by sources close to the Obama administration and by representatives of the P5+1 countries (the US, the UK, France, Russia, and China plus Germany). As Netanyahu pointed out, apparently in response to warnings by US President Barack Obama, nothing he was stating was based on classified intelligence information shared in confidence by the US with Israel, but was readily available on Google.
Netanyahu reminded US lawmakers – who belong to what Netanyahu referred to as the world’s most important legislature – why the deal believed being offered to the Islamic Republic is bad.
First and foremost was the sunset clause, which essentially legitimates Iran’s nuclear weapons program within 10 years, with perhaps a five-year phase-out period tacked on. This, rightly noted Netanyahu, might seem like a long time in politics but is the blink of an eye in the lives of nations or for our children.
He also criticized the seeming willingness on the part of P5+1 nations to allow the Iranians to maintain a substantial uranium and plutonium enrichment infrastructure of thousands of centrifuges.
He pointed out that it was wrong not to include in the deal with Iran a ban on the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, whose only purpose is to deliver a payload of nuclear warheads – and do so as far away as America.
But more than voicing criticism of a bad nuclear deal with Iran, which would inevitably lead to nuclear proliferation in the region and most likely war, Netanyahu also provided a vision for moving forward. He did not simply trash the deal and leave no room for negotiations. He held onto the ideal of a peaceful resolution of the conflict via a negotiated deal with Iran.
No country more than Israel has a stake in seeing a peaceful resolution of the conflict with Iran, because Israel would suffer if the situation deteriorates into a military conflagration.
Since sanctions were what brought the Iranians to the bargaining table in the first place, Netanyahu proposed not lifting sanctions until the Iranians stop their aggression.
Indeed, premature lifting of sanctions would actually encourage Iranian aggression. And sanctions can be particularly effective now, as oil prices have fallen to their lowest level in decades.
Only once the Iranians have stopped supporting terrorism around the world from Buenos Aires and Burgas to Baghdad and Beirut; only once they stop threatening the annihilation of Israel; only once they stop demonstrations of aggression against the US like last week’s staged attack on a replica US aircraft carrier can the P5+1 be expected to reduce sanctions.
“If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country,” intoned Netanyahu, “it should begin acting like a normal country,” adding that the alternative to a bad deal with Iran does not have to be war, it can be an even better deal.
Still, while Netanyahu made it clear that Israelis overwhelmingly prefer a negotiated deal through diplomacy and still hold out hope for a peaceful solution, the renewal of Jewish sovereignty after nearly two millennia of longing means that Israel no longer has to rely on others to defend it.
Pointing to Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Eli Wiesel, who was sitting next to Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister noted that the man’s life and work gave new meaning to the words “never again.”
“And I wish I could promise you, Elie, that the lessons of history have been learned.... But I can guarantee you this, the days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over.”
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