Scholars Consider Netanyahu’s Speech before US Congress: Part 2

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Compiled By: Firouzeh Mirrazavi
Deputy Editor of Iran Review

on Tuesday March 3, Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the US Congress, calling on the United States not to negotiate “a very bad deal” with Iran over its nuclear energy program. He said, “We’ve been told for over a year that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well this is a bad deal, a very bad deal. We’re better off without it.” Netanyahu said that it is not true that “the only alternative to this deal is war.” “The alternative to this deal is a much better deal. A better deal that doesn't leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and such a short breakout point,” he added. He said that the ongoing nuclear negotiations would provide Iran “with a short breakout time for a bomb.” “According to the deal not a single nuclear facility would be demolished,” he said. “So this deal won’t change Iran for the better, it will only change the Middle East for the worst,” he noted.

US President Barack Obama said there was "nothing new" in the speech. He told reporters that Netanyahu "did not offer any viable alternative.”

Speaking to reporters in the Swiss city of Geneva on Tuesday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned against “spreading fears” about a final nuclear deal that is being negotiated by representatives from Iran and the six states. “Spreading fears is not helpful at this stage,” Mogherini told reporters, adding, “We are getting closer” to a comprehensive accord aimed at ending the longstanding dispute on Tehran’s nuclear dossier.

Below is the excerpts of some of the scholars' views regarding the matter: Part 2:

You can find the first Part Here


*Ignore Netanyahu*

Michael Brenner, Professor of International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh

Source: Gulf 2000

"I urge that we disregard its content for two reasons. First, there is absolutely nothing new in the criticisms of a conjectured agreement's terms. Why must we critique and contradict those theses simply because they are repeated by the prime minister of Israel? To treat their presentation as demanding a response is to say that Mr. Netanyahu and the country he represents have a rightful claim to have their concerns satisfied.

The overriding truths of what happened this week are these. The leader of a foreign country assumed the right to play a direct role as a protagonist in the making a crucial foreign policy decision. One political party, with the tacit acceptance of many in the President's Party, cynically collaborated in that unprecedented trespass. As a consequence, the President was humiliated before the world. The media and the punditry once again failed in their duty to hold our leaders to minimum standards of proper conduct by their either voicing approval, turning a blind eye, or expressing just tepid criticism. The post-speech commentary subordinated the core diplomatic and constitutional questions to concentrate on Netanyahu's argument. Thus, he was able to hijack the country's public discourse as well as to give a boost to critics in and out of Congress of the administration's policy direction.

The other cardinal lesson is that Barack Obama once again demonstrated that he lacks critical traits of leadership: true political instincts, and the courage to confront squarely an enemy. It is embarrassing in the extreme that the President of the United States should reduce himself to the status of a sideline commentator in dashing to a microphone to offer an off-the-cuff response to Netanyahu. Obama seems not to have considered, much less acted on a recognition that he was being presented with a golden opportunity to strike a decisive blow against the Israelis, their American lobby and his Republican attackers by calling them out - the former on the issues of presumption and dependency, the latter on issues of loyalty and respect for American independence. That failure may well haunt us for a long time. I fear that the rest of us only add to the danger by a failing to see that the prudent thing now is to stop the music."

*Netanyahu's Politics of Hysteria*

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Political Scientist Specializing in Iran’s Foreign and Nuclear Affairs

Source: Eurasia Review

"With characteristic paranoid style, Netanyahu used the opportunity to spew his Iranophobic venom, simultaneously portraying Israel as the ideal type, irrespective of Israel’s tyranny of imprisoning a whole population in Gaza. His intention was clearly to motivate and persuade his American audience to oppose the nuclear deal-in-process, which the opinion polls indicate is favored by a solid majority of Americans. His speech was filled with wild allegations against Iran, some of which on the “nuclearizing Iran” are rejected by his own intelligence as well as the U.S. intelligence community.

Case in point, Netanyahu claimed that the Iranian Supreme Leader has called for 190,000 centrifuges, when in fact Ayatollah Khamenei has spoken of Iran’s need for 190,000 separative work units, a nuclear terminology, translating into some 50,000 centrifuges. Ironically, Netanyahu did not see fit to quote Khamenei’s other statement banning the manufacturing and stockpiling of nuclear weapons.

Irrespective of his deceptive rhetoric about the Iranian nuclear threat, the bad news is that the train of nuclear diplomacy has left the station and all of Netanyahu’s venom against Iran is a remedy too late. His speech reminds one of the US senator who in 1928 introduced a bill that identified political hysteria as a “mental disorder.” Clearly, Netanyahu’s speech invoked the need to revisit the bill that was never legislated."


*Netanyahu Made Some Good Points, But Did So in a Stupid Way*

Robert O. Freedman, Visiting Professor of Political Science at
Johns Hopkins University

Source: Gulf 2000

"For many years, support for Israel in the United States has been bipartisan, as both Democrats and Republicans  have seen Israel as a fellow democracy and an American ally in the volatile Middle East. However, by accepting the invitation to speak to a joint session of the US Congress from the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, who did not inform the Obama Administration in advance of the invitation, Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who had openly backed  Republican Mitt Romney, Barack Obama’s opponent in the 2012 US Presidential election, further polarized support for Israel in the United States along party lines. Thus, Republicans are increasingly supporting Israel, and Democrats have been   lessening their support for the Jewish State. This endangers Israel’s security
–as Isaac Herzog, Netanyahu’s main opponent in the coming March 17^th election in Israel has pointed out-- because if Israel becomes a partisan issue in the United States, when the less sympathetic political party is in power, there will be far less support for Israel.

Despite his error in making support for Israel into a partisan issue in the United States, Netanyahu did raise some important points in his speech before the US Congress. It will  be interesting to see if the agreement the P-5 plus Germany  have been seeking with Iran reflects these concerns."


*Who Loses Most by Netanyahu Hue and Cry?*

Abdolreza Ghofrani, Former Iranian Diplomat and International Analyst

Source: Iranian Diplomacy

"It is quite astounding as to how the US Congress Members (of course mostly Republicans), all through this speech did give many stand ovations and clapped for the prime minister for repetition of his old and meaningless claims. It seems they might not have done this cheering when their own president gave his State of Union before the Congress! Even when Netanyahu entering the aisle as well as leaving after the speech, there were some senators and representatives who enthusiastically rushed to Netanyahu to greet him as if they just wanted to show respect and commitment to their mentor. What these hardliners in Congress are up to?  What do they gain by this? Isn't it only but these representatives are so unaware of what happens in the United States or in the world? Or are they so naïve that can be easily deceived by a populist such as Netanyahu? Certainly this is for American people to decide and judge. However we do need not to lose sight of the fact that if American people disapprove what Netanyahu is saying, then are these hardliners in Congress their real representatives? This is a question that must be deeply dealt with and the future generation will answer.

As for relation of Netanyahu speech with the on-going nuclear talks in Geneva, we cannot but say that notwithstanding these controversies and comic shows, these talks are somberly going on with Iran and United States negotiating teams being pretty self restraint. It is worthy reminding that over the past couple of weeks some points have been discussed by American circles and the mass media which has not been so bluntly talked about in the past. They, in particular, underscored that Israelis over the past decades and much more during past nine years of the Netanyahu tenure, have time and again made claims that proved to be baseless and fake. Now even circles close to Israel and those supporting the regime in Tel Aviv do not hesitate to voice their doubts on these claims.

On balance, Israel new election is only two weeks away. As political observers suggest this is a tough challenge for Netanyahu and his Likud Party. If he does not win this election, then it reaffirms that his claims have been fake and baseless and nobody has believed him and it is an indication that he has deceived Americans and particularly US Congress. If he purportedly wins, this victory will be at Americans' cost and on the expenses of dividing Legislative and executive branches of this country."

*Why Obama's coolness to Netanyahu proves Rouhani right*

Alex Vatanka, Expert on Middle Eastern Affairs with Particular Focus on Iran

Source: CNN

"The Iranian reaction to the speech has been a combination of indignation and indifference.

While some of Netanyahu's remarks are already being exploited by competing factions within the Iranian state, the likeliest impact of the speech is tied to Netanyahu's baseless charge that Iran's vendetta against the Jewish people is an ancient mission.

For the moderates, the controversy around his speech and the cold-shoulder Netanyahu got from the White House is itself a vindication of President Rouhani's gamble on reaching a diplomatic solution to Iran's 12-year nuclear saga.

The hardliners have been quick to paint Netanyahu's visit to Washington as an example of the insincerity of the Americans in dealing with Iran, but not even the hawks in Tehran are claiming that Netanyahu's presence in the U.S. Congress is grounds to shift Iran's nuclear diplomatic strategy."


*Republicans Overreach After Bibi’s Speech*

Jim Lobe, The Washington Bureau Chief of the International News Agency, Inter Press Service

Source: Lobelog

"No doubt emboldened by the enthusiasm of his fellow Republicans—and perhaps by Netanyahu himself—for Bibi’s attack before Congress on Obama and the P5+1’s negotiations with Iran, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appears to have overreached, compounding the growing perception that Israel has become a partisan issue.

After Bibi’s speech, McConnell moved to put the Corker bill, which Obama has vowed to veto, on a fast track by invoking a parliamentary rule that could bring the bill to the Senate floor as early as next week. The maneuver appeared aimed at gaining swift Senate passage so that it could move to the House well before the tentative March 24 deadline for a framework agreement with Iran could be finalized.

What is remarkable is how quickly the momentum created by Netanyahu’s speech has dissipated on Capitol Hill by McConnell’s clumsiness. “I think the bill—barring what happened yesterday—was headed for a veto-proof majority,” Sen. Angus King, the one independent co-sponsor of the bill, told The Hill Wednesday. “I think yesterday derailed that to some extent.”

One of the big questions arising out of this debacle is whether McConnell acted without consulting anyone else except maybe Boehner (whose actions and explanations have struck me as those of a “useful idiot”—an expression used by Lenin for someone who is easily manipulated by political forces he doesn’t fully understand—since he first announced his invitation to Netanyahu). Or was this another scheme cooked up by Dermer, and possibly the Israeli prime minister himself, as well as other key figures, such as Bill Kristol and Sheldon Adelson, who appear to have played important roles in getting Boehner to issue the invite in the first place and who were gathered together in the House gallery, presumably as “special guests”—along with Elie Wiesel, among others—during Tuesday’s speech?"


*Netanyahu enters never-never land*

Fareed Zakaria, American Journalist and Author and the Host of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS

Source: Washington Post

"Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress was eloquent, moving and intelligent in identifying the problems with the potential nuclear deal with Iran. But when describing the alternative to it, Netanyahu entered never-never land, painting a scenario utterly divorced from reality. Congress joined him on his fantasy ride, rapturously applauding as he spun out one unattainable demand after another.

why have Bibi’s predictions been wrong for 25 years? A small part of it has been Western and Israeli sabotage that impeded Iran’s progress. But even the most exaggerated claims by intelligence agencies would not account for a delay of more than a few years. The larger part is probably that Iran has always recognized that were it to build a bomb, it would face huge international consequences. In other words, the Iranian officials have calculated — correctly — that the benefits of breakout are not worth the costs. The key to any agreement with Iran is to keep the costs of breakout high and the benefits low. This is the most realistic path to keeping Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state — not Peter Pan dreams."


*Israel, Iran, and the bomb*

Ramesh Thakur, Director of the Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, Australian National University

Source: Open Canada

"On March 3, Washington witnessed political theatre at its most distasteful. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came not to praise President Barack Obama but to bury a nuclear deal with Iran. The political party that prides itself on being more patriotic than its rival produced the spectacle of genuflecting to a foreign leader who used his podium in the U.S. Congress to criticize the U.S. president. Extraordinary! The rest of the world shook its head in collective disbelief.

Unfortunately for Israel, the global equation is changing radically for the U.S. as it grapples with renewed and persisting tensions in Eastern Europe and attempts to pivot to Asia to check China’s growing reach and influence. Cooperation with Iran by unlocking the frozen enmity that has framed bilateral relations since 1979 would help to advance shared security goals against radical extremists in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, enabling Washington to focus more sharply on troubles in Europe and Asia.

The regional nuclear equation is defined by two core propositions. First, there is no moral or strategic equivalence between Israel and Iran having 100 nuclear bombs each. Most independent analysts and people would be far more worried about Iran. Second, nonetheless, it is simply not credible that Israel can keep its bomb forever while no one else in the region is allowed to get the bomb ever (any more than nine countries can keep the bomb indefinitely while permanently blocking anyone else from getting it). Hence the key question: How can Israel manage its present military dominance and nuclear monopoly to create a regional order in which it is comfortable living once the strategic equation has normalized?

Israeli intransigence and unstopped headstrong expansion of illegal settlements in occupied Palestine have already lost much European goodwill and support. Now Netanyahu has shattered trust with the White House and risks opening a permanently damaging debate in U.S. domestic politics about the extent to which Washington subordinates its broader, long-term, global interests to Israel. If Netanyahu has put the most critical Israeli relationship at long-term risk for domestic electoral advantage, his actions are even more reprehensible. Someone should explain to him why the boy got eaten by the wolf."

*These views represent those of the authors and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

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