With negotiations dragging on for years and with no real end in sight, the nuclear crisis we face with Iran has fallen to the back of most American’s minds.
Not so for Congress.
Courageous Senate leaders, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, are gearing up to reintroduce legislation to increase sanctions against Iran should negotiations fail. They introduced a similar bill in early 2014 but failed when President Barack Obama persuaded then-Senate majority leader Harry Reid to prevent their legislation from being brought to the Senate floor.
Even if it had made it to a vote, Obama had sworn to veto the legislation lest it interfere with his so-far inconclusive negotiations. However, with November’s Republican takeover of the Senate, a veto-proof super majority of votes is within reach. In these coming weeks, this crucial legislation might just stand a chance.
The opposition, however, remains steadfast.
Just this past Monday, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power came out sharply against the Kirk-Menendez bill during an address at the McConnell Center at the University of Kentucky, where she spoke alongside the new Senate majority leader and namesake of the center, Mitch McConnell. In her speech, she criticized the sanctions bill as something that would “isolate” the United States and undermine efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Tehran.
Ambassador Power is a close friend for whom I have a great deal of respect and whom I genuinely admire. In her days as a writer and journalist she set a high bar for human rights activism and was never afraid to speak truth to power. She became the world’s most vocal opponent of genocide and earned my everlasting respect for doing so.
As America’s permanent representative to the United Nations, she has stood up not just for such key global battles as human rights and fighting Ebola, but for Israel, the organization’s most abused and isolated member. We all saw this just recently as she rose against the tide and voted against Mahmoud Abbas’s unilateral move to join the International Criminal Court where he hopes to hide his own human rights abuses and scapegoat Israel.
But for all my considerable respect and admiration for Samantha Power – and she has graciously agreed to be one of the speakers at our Champions of Jewish Values Annual Awards dinner on June 3 at the Marriot Marquis in Manhattan – here I must respectfully disagree. I take serious issue with opposition to further sanctions against Iran. There has been no demonstrable progress in the negotiations, and unfreezing assets allows a brutal regime to continue with its serious human rights abuses.
For every extension granted, the Iranian centrifuges continue to spin. That, coupled with their genocidal rhetoric against Israel, is deeply troubling.
I do not doubt that President Obama, Ambassador Power and the entire administration are deeply committed to preventing Iran from going nuclear. But allowing a genocidal regime to remain a threshold nuclear power is danger to world civilization.
The negotiations seem endless. Iran is running out the clock. And if that is true, we’re probably headed toward a very bad deal – one that might leave Tehran within weeks of a nuclear weapon should it choose to break for one.
According to troubling reports of the IAEA, the Iranians already have 13,397 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent uranium-235. If they use all 9,000 of their centrifuges at Natanz, they could enrich this further to the weapon-grade level of 90 percent uranium-235 in just over a month and a half. If Iran’s close ally North Korea can serve as an example, they absolutely will.
And why wouldn’t they? North Korea, despite being one of the most evil dictatorships to ever take root on earth, has become almost immune to foreign interference and control. Its nuclear capabilities have all but ruled out any measures that might be taken against the regime. It is free to starve its own people, sink South Korean vessels, and hack into American film corporations in order to limit freedom of speech. Worse yet, it is free to sell its nuclear technologies to rogue regimes such as Syria, which might have had a nuclear bomb today had Israel not bombed its near-complete reactor in 2007. Unless the world is willing to risk nuclear war, nothing can be done to stop them.
For Iran, the implications of obtaining a nuclear bomb would be even more catastrophic – for Israel, the Middle East, and the entire freedom- loving world. Israel would be under existential threat, and would have its hands tied in any dealings with Iranian proxies such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. Iran might even God forbid give a bomb to one of these deathcult militias. The Middle East would be instantly destabilized, with a nuclear arms race certain to take off. And with a rogue-state wielding doomsday capabilities, the entire world would be forced to watch all levels of Iranian belligerence, unable to intervene.
I needn’t go further on that topic. However, I do need to reinforce why we are engaged in these negotiations. And that is to stop the Iranians from going nuclear. Not to buy their trust, not to improve our diplomatic relations, and not to warm Iran to the civilized world. We are in this to win – to stop a heartless autocracy from achieving the means to bring about the nightmare that is their goal.
There is no goodwill with a regime that organized the bombing of a US Marine barracks in Lebanon that left 241 of brave men dead. There is no trust with a supreme leader who tweeted a nine-step program to eradicate an American ally and the only democracy in the Middle East.
There is no respect for a government that hangs homosexuals in public squares and sets university enrollment quotas to restrict women from achieving a higher education.
In Iran, a woman’s life is legally worth one-half of a man’s. They can be arrested for failing to cover their hair, and cannot work or leave the country without the written permission of their husbands. Those who practice the Baha’i faith can be legally murdered with impunity, and conversion to Judaism or Christianity is met with the death penalty.
The death penalty is particularly popular in the brutal theocracy of Iran. During “moderate” Hassan Rouhani’s first year in office, 773 people were executed, an increase of 243 over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s record of 530 the year before.
There can be no warm ties with the world’s greatest state-sponsor of terrorism, which the State Department itself says has “hindered the Middle East peace process by arming militants, including Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad... sustaining violence in the region, particularly Syria.”
On the contrary, if we’re talking about Iran, isolation is the ideal – save the harsh and stringent measures we take to contain its potent evil.
We need to add to the pressure on Iran and not lessen it. We need to force it into our program for a safer and more peaceful world, even as it tries to destabilize it. Tehran is much more likely to compromise under pressure, a fact proven not least by its attendance at the negotiations. After all, it was only after congressional sanctions that it agreed to talk in the first place, and it was the easing of these sanctions that got us the interim agreement of November 2013. Despite the macho bravado thrown off by the Iranian leadership, the threat of sanctions is a very real one. And since it’s in our power to enact these sanctions, we have the upper hand. We ought to act like it.
With their legislation, Senators Kirk and Menendez will dangle a future of crippling sanctions before the mullahs and then ask them to decide. With this homosexual-hanging, women- discriminating, terrorism-sponsoring and Jew-hating regime, that might just be the best way to go about it.Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network, an organization defending Israel in world media. He is the author of
Judaism for Everyone and 30 other books, including his most recent,
Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.