In perhaps the most widely debated address ever given by a foreign leader to Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described a “fateful crossroads” on the Iranian nuclear threat and said that the emerging deal between Iran and world powers is paving the way for a Middle East “littered with nuclear bombs.”
“This deal has two major concessions: one, leaving Iran with a vast nuclear program, and two, lifting the restrictions on that program in about a decade,” Netanyahu said in his speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday morning.
“That’s why this deal is so bad,” he said. “It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb, it paves Iran’s path to the bomb.”
Netanyahu’s speech before a joint meeting of Congress March 3 come against the backdrop of U.S.-Israel disagreements on both protocol and policy.
Approximately 50 House and Senate Democrats did not attend Netanyahu’s address, The New York Times reported. Some protested House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation of the Israeli leader without consulting President Obama, who also was not in attendance. Media reports leading up to the speech highlighted ongoing tension between the two heads of state. Other Democrats saw the address as a political stunt to bolster Netanyahu’s reelection campaign two weeks prior to the Israeli vote.
Netanyahu opened his speech by praising Obama’s support for Israel and saying, “I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political. That was never my intention.”
Netanyahu praised Obama for the support the president has provided Israel in areas such as security cooperation, intelligence sharing, and standing up for Israel at the United Nations. He also thanked Obama for assistance in lesser-known areas, such as U.S. support for Israel during natural disasters and during the siege on Israel’s embassy in Cairo in 2011.
“In each of those moments, I called the president and he was there,” Netanyahu said.
A “profound obligation” to oppose Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons motivated his speech, Netanyahu said, noting that, driven by radical Islam, Iran seeks to annihilate Israel and control its Arab neighbors.
The Israeli leader thanked Congress for its support for Israel, including the funding of the highly successful Iron Dome missile defense system.
“This capital dome helped build our Iron Dome,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu then drew a parallel between the upcoming Jewish holiday of Purim—which commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persia—and the modern-day Iranian threat.
“Today the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian” leader to “destroy the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said.
The prime minister said Iran is seeking to take over the Middle East, dominating four capitals in the region—Baghdad (Iraq), Damascus (Syria), Beirut (Lebanon), and Sana’a (Yemen)—and exporting its brand of jihad across the world.
While Netanyahu noted that the Iranian people are “very talented,” he said that in 1979, the country was hijacked by “religious zealots”—in reference to the Iranian Revolution of that year, under Ayatollah Khomeini.
Iran’s founding documents espouse the idea of “death, tyranny, and the pursuit of jihad,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu also took aim at Iran’s current president, Hassan Rouhani, who has been touted by some as being a moderate compared to his Holocaust-denying predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The Iranian regime is “as radical as ever,” Netanyahu declared, saying that the country’s ideology is rooted in militant Islam.
Netanyahu cautioned against seeing Iran as an ally in the fight against the Islamic State, a Sunni Muslim terrorist organization that has conquered large swaths of Syria and Iraq and has been battling Iranian-backed Shi’a Muslim terror groups such as Hezbollah.
“The battle of Iran against ISIS (Islamic State) doesn’t turn Iran into a friend,” Netanyahu said. “When it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.”
The nuclear deal being considered by Iran, the U.S. and five other nations would allow Iran to keep around 6,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges while limiting development of more efficient centrifuges. It also would limit stockpiles of material that could be developed into nuclear weapons and subject Iran’s nuclear facilities to inspection, the Washington Post reported. The agreement likely would last 10-15 years, and a March 24 deadline has been set for establishing the framework of a final accord.
“Not a single nuclear facility would be demolished,” Netanyahu said, saying that nuclear breakout time under the proposed terms of the deal could be less than a year, according to U.S. assessments. In a decade—what Netanyahu called “a blink of an eye”—Iran could produce “many, many nuclear bombs.”
Towards the end of his address, Netanyahu laid out three demands for Iran: stop attacks against countries in the region, stop supporting terrorism around the world, and stop “threatening to annihilate my country, Israel, the one and only Jewish state.”
Netanyahu called for a “better deal” than what is currently being discussed, saying that restrictions on Iran should stay in place “until Iran’s aggression ends.”
“A better deal that won’t give Iran an easy path to the bomb [is needed],” he said.
Netanyahu urged Congress to reject the reported parameters of the proposed deal with Iran.
“For over a year, we’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal,” Netanyahu said. “Well, this is a bad deal. It’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it.”
Netanyahu said the world is at a “fateful crossroads” between a “bad deal” that will lead to a nuclear Iran, and a second path that would prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
“Iran’s regime is as radical as ever,” Netanyahu said. “… The ideology of Iran’s revolutionary regime is deeply rooted in militant Islam, and that’s why this regime will always be an enemy of America.”
Netanyahu concluded his speech by quoting Moses, whose portrait appears inside of the U.S. Capitol.
“Be strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them,” Netanyahu said, adding, “May Israel and America always stand together, strong and resolute.”
The build-up to Netanyahu’s address was unprecedented, with nearly every major broadcast news network or newspaper devoting considerable coverage to the event, and tickets in high demand.
“The tickets are hotter than fresh latkes,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told the New York Times.
Daniel Pipes, president and founder of the Middle East Forum think tank, told JNS.org that Netanyahu’s speech “touched on the key issues in the prospective Iran deal, skirted American politics, and spoke eloquently about Israel and Jews.”
U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), the only Jewish Republican in Congress, said in a statement, “The prime minister reinforced to Congress today that he does not oppose an agreement with Iran; he opposes a bad agreement. The Iranian regime has shown no indication that it’s willing to abandon its nuclear program. Iran continues to get by with billions of dollars in relief from sanctions, as they continue to successfully buy more time and continue to pursue nuclear capability.”
“Now is the time for members from both sides of the aisle to work together to strengthen our relationship with Israel, our strategic partner in the Middle East, a beacon of democracy, freedom and liberty in an area filled with darkness,” Zeldin said. “It is my hope that the Obama administration will start standing with our allies in Israel and stop protecting our enemies.”
— by Sean Savage | JNS.org
BP news service used in this report.