Scholars Consider Netanyahu’s Speech before US Congress: Part 1

Friday, March 6, 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:


*Netanyahu’s Speech*

Gary Sick, Senior Research Scholar and Adjunct Professor of International Affairs at Columbia University

Source: Gary's Choices

"Netanyahu claims that Iran is this powerful aggressive state that has recently taken over four countries: Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. I’m sorry, but as someone who follows the region somewhat closely, this is simply silly. Iraq is especially peculiar. The reason there is a Shia government in Baghdad is because George W. Bush invaded (with the very strong recommendation of Netanyahu) and installed a pro-Iranian Shia government. If this is a case of conquest, he has the wrong culprit.

But then he also claims that this all-conquering regional power is also such a vulnerable state that it will quickly concede if we impose more sanctions. He carefully avoids mentioning that we refused a deal with Iran in 2003 that would have capped its centrifuges at about 3000 and started imposing more and more sanctions. Ten years later Iran had 20,000 centrifuges and a highly developed nuclear power program. Don’t mention that, and don’t mention that Netanyahu predicted in 1992 — more than 20 years ago —  that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in 3-5 years.

He emphasized that Iran cannot be trusted. Agreed. But when you make an agreement with an enemy (think SALT agreements with the USSR) you do not trust, you verify. And that’s what the current negotiations are intended to produce.

His only alternative is the unicorn option: walk away from the table and Iran will cave in and agree to eliminate its entire nuclear capability. Our 36 years of dealing with Iran suggest that this is truly fantasy land. It may appeal to politicians trying to look tough, but there is no way that it will actually get Iran to modify or reduce its nuclear program."


*Netanyahu's supporters (and critics) don't really care what he says to Congress*

John Limbert, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and Former Diplomat at the US Embassy in Tehran

Source: The Guardian

"Those who argue “no deal is better than a bad deal” are really saying “no deal is better than any deal”. For “deal” implies compromise, and those opposing the agreement reject compromise. They argue that we should not be seeking a negotiated outcome but should be forcing Iran to accept all our demands. They are seeking a fantasy called total surrender. Whatever else Iran will do, it will not agree to what it calls a humiliation.

As for Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to Congress, his words will not matter. What will matter is the obvious symbolism of his presence in a partisan and political event. Netanyahu will denounce Iran and its evil ways, but behind these denunciations his real target lies elsewhere. The speech will be a divisive event, in which, for his own reasons, Netanyahu has entered the American political arena and thrown in his lot with President Obama’s opponents. In this political mêlée, Iran becomes the means to weaken him.

Such a bizarre piece of diplomacy may play well with the far right in the United States and with Netanyahu’s own constituency in the coming Israeli elections. In the process he does not seem to care how many dishes he breaks or how much he damages Israel’s relations with the president of its most important ally. He is using Iran to go “all in” with the far right in both countries and to align himself openly with Obama’s harshest opponents. He has escalated a foreign policy disagreement between two friendly countries into an ugly partisan fight loaded with innuendo. Things have reached a place where it is probably easier for Secretary Kerry to meet with Javad Zarif, his Iranian counterpart, than to meet with the Israeli prime minister."

*Iran Already Has Nuclear Weapons Capability*

Graham Allison, Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Source: Foreign Polcy

"There is no way to erase from the minds of thousands of Iranian scientists and engineers the knowledge and skills to produce weapons-grade uranium. There is no way to eliminate Iran’s indigenous capacity to mine uranium, manufacture centrifuges, or operate them. Thus, there is no conceivable end to this story in which Iran will not retain the capability to build nuclear weapons.

This is a truth that many in Congress simply refuse to accept, since like the prime minister they have repeatedly declared this would never be allowed to happen. Even the most recent iteration of the Kirk-Menendez sanctions legislation asserts that Iran must be “precluded from a nuclear breakout capability.” Wonderful as it would be to return to a past when that could be the case, in this world, that is now fantasy. As the U.S. intelligence community has consistently reported, including in February’s release of the 2015 Worldwide Threat Assessment: “Iran does not face any insurmountable technical barriers to producing a nuclear weapon, making Iran’s political will the central issue.”

Since negotiations about a comprehensive agreement are ongoing, at this point no one knows whether the Iranians will accept a verifiable agreement that meets our essential objectives, including extending their “breakout time” from the current 2-3 months to at least one year and accepting intrusive verification and inspections, which are crucial to our ability to discover any attempt to cheat."


*Looking Beyond Netanyahu’s Speech*

Robert E. Hunter, Former US Ambassador to NATO

Source: Lobelog

"Will the Obama-Zarif exchange cause the talks to collapse? Probably not. Given that Netanyahu’s case before Congress did not introduce a factual basis for new and legitimate fears about the conclusion of a deal between Iran and the P5+1 countries on the former’s nuclear program, he won’t likely achieve his objective. The odds still favor an agreement, unless either President Obama loses his nerve or the Iranians torpedo the nuclear talks, despite the intense economic pressures to settle. The Iranians might do this out of concern that Congress can sabotage the lifting of sanctions or the next US administration cannot be relied upon to honor any agreement reached now. Moreover, the US-Israeli relationship will remain rock-solid, in terms of US support for Israel’s security.

But the sturm und drang over both the Netanyahu speech and the endgame on the Iranian negotiations is only the prelude to a further set of critical developments in the Middle East and in the roles that the United States and other outside powers play there. Indeed, the likely trajectory of some of these developments explains much of Netanyahu’s intensity and also the backing he has received from a number of regional Arab states.

An agreement with Iran, if achieved, will be concluded either on March 24, when the framework agreement is supposed to be unveiled, or on June 30, the supposed “hard” stop date. Between now and then, the Obama administration must get ready to do a number of things. As soon as even just a framework for an agreement is announced, it must be able to roll out a long-term strategy that identifies specific commitments, specifies new understandings with regional allies, and outlines agreements for shared regional responsibilities with the Europeans and East Asian states, notably Japan, South Korea, and Australia."


*An Agreement That Is Good for Israel, Bad for Netanyahu*

Paul R. Pillar, US Former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia

Source: The National Interest

"One of the strangest aspects of the frantic crying of alarm over Iran's nuclear program—with the crying having reached its most publicized peak in Benjamin Netanyahu's Republican/Likud campaign rally in the House chamber—is that the chief crier is the government of a country that not only has the most advanced nuclear program in the Middle East but has kept that program completely out of the reach and scrutiny of any international control and inspection regime.

Netanyahu's narrowly-motivated efforts to destroy the diplomacy with Iran are not only directly contrary to U.S. interests; they also are contrary to Israel's interests. Those who really do care about Israel and its security, rather than just ritualistically referring to them while swaying and bobbing up and down to Netanyahu's music, need to realize that."


*Netanyahu Changed Nothing*

Daniel Kurtzer, Former US Ambassador to Israel and Egypt

Source: Politico Magazine

"Netanyahu’s big bet on reversing the course of the Iran negotiations apparently did not succeed, although it is still unclear — as it was when Netanyahu first conceived this trip — whether the talks will reach fruition. What is clear is that Netanyahu changed few minds, either in Congress or among the public. Everyone is skeptical of Iran and its intentions, and everyone wants a tightly-knit set of obligations and safeguards that try to ensure that Iran will not be able to build a nuclear weapon. However, the divide remains as to where to draw the line.

Despite Netanyahu’s protestations of affinity for the United States and his assertion that his speech meant no disrespect for President Obama, the fact is that in agreeing to speak before Congress without the president’s knowledge or invitation Netanyahu demonstrated substantial disrespect for Obama personally and for the institution of the U.S. presidency. While some argue that the fabric of American-Israeli ties will remain strong notwithstanding the tensions at the top, it defies reason for an Israeli prime minister to undermine a sitting president who has almost two years left in office and to court a Republican-held Congress when the U.S.-Israel relationship has been so carefully built by a bipartisan coalition over the years .

Perhaps after all is said and done, Netanyahu’s visit to America helped shed light on some important fissures taking place that need to be mended quickly. The visit was – in reality – an effort by politicians in both the United States and Israel to shake up their respective domestic politics. But in the end what we are left with is outstanding questions about the U.S.-Israeli relationship. I hope it will remain strong. It should remain strong. But we need to find a way to get domestic politics out of the equation – on both sides – and revive our history of shared support."


*Bibi's War Cry Rings Hollow in Congress*

Reza Marashi & Trita Parsi
Reza Marashi, Director of Research at the National Iranian American Council
Trita Parsi, Founder and President of the National Iranian American Council

Source: The National Interest

"The reprehensible nature of Netanyahu’s intervention into an American domestic political debate on matters of war and peace cannot be overstated. His call for zero enrichment would be troubling if it was not insane. Maximalist positions such as the one being pushed by the likes of Netanyahu and his hawkish allies in Congress have been widely acknowledged as unachievable for over a decade. We know from our recent past that pushing for objectives that cannot be achieved is a primary reason why the Iranian nuclear crisis has reached the brink of war in recent years.

It is due to the likes of Netanyahu and his acolytes in Congress – the type of ideologues who dominated the Bush administration – that today’s nuclear deal with Iran will not have terms as favorable to America as what could have been achieved ten years ago. With that in mind, it is the height of arrogance for such ideologues to peddle their destructive influence with the clear intent of sabotaging Obama’s efforts to build a more peaceful reality.

With the truth on its side, the White House can confidently reach a nuclear deal with Iran and sell it to the American people free of spin, based on merit alone: Obama stopped Iran from building a nuclear weapon; kept America out of another war in the Middle East; led a six-country coalition while maintaining unity throughout; and delivered a clear win for American interests."


*The Incoherence of Bibi’s Sabotage Effort*

Daniel Levy, Head of the Middle East and & North Africa Program at European Council on Foreign Relations

Source: Lobelog

"The prime minister’s speech was rhetorically skillful, but his attempt to punch holes in a prospective nuclear deal as well as define a morning-after narrative regarding Iran fails to stand up to post-speech scrutiny.

But on closer inspection it is Netanyahu’s case that makes no sense. On the one hand he says that the Iranian regime has been around for 36 years and will not change in the next 10, while on the other he claims that the regime is so fragile and vulnerable to pressure that it is on the brink of collapse. Netanyahu argues that more pressure and insistence can deliver a better deal, but decades of negotiations say otherwise. When negotiations cease and sanctions increase Iran has upped its enrichment capacity and has been able to secure better terms.

Netanyahu’s assertions of Iran’s genocidal intentions would be news to the 25,000 Jews who continue to live safely inside the Islamic Republic, the largest community outside Israel in the region. If he is looking for regional states with a history of expansionism he might look closer to home. Finally, Netanyahu’s riff on the threat to non-proliferation was worthy of an Oscar for chutzpah."


*Don’t Blow Up an Effective Iran Deal*

Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association

Source: Defence One

"Unfortunately, Netanyahu claims in hyperbolic terms that the deal-in-the-making just isn’t good enough. He believes that additional pressure, through still tougher sanctions, will somehow persuade Iran’s leaders to dismantle their major nuclear facilities entirely. That’s a dangerous fantasy.

In 2005, when Iran had a few hundred centrifuges, insisting on zero enrichment in a nuclear deal may have been possible. Ten years and 19,000 centrifuges later, it is not.

Even if Iran completely ”dismantled” its nuclear infrastructure, it could rebuild it. For about a decade, Iran has had the basic capacity to produce bomb grade nuclear material for weapons. Tougher sanctions or a military strike will not eliminate the knowledge and basic industrial capacity.

The agreement will not deliver everything the P5+1 countries want. But based on the signs emerging from the talks, it looks to be an effective approach that would effectively block Iran’s nuclear weapons potential for many years to come."


*Why Iran's rise is a good thing*

Hillary Mann Leverett, CEO of Strategic Energy and Global Analysis (STRATEGA)

Source: CNN

"Yet not only has the U.S. intelligence community disagreed with Netanyahu's assessment of Iranian nuclear intentions, so does Israel's, according to leaked documents. Indeed, more than 200 retired security officers have publicly criticized Netanyahu as a danger to Israel's security. Sadly, Netanyahu's presentation reinforces caricatures regularly advanced by American and Gulf Arab pundits -- caricatures of Iran as aspiring Middle Eastern hegemon, bent on overthrowing an otherwise stable regional order. It's a misguided perspective that is actually hurting the United States.

In Netanyahu's view, America should only improve relations with an Iran that stops its regional "aggression," its support for "terrorism," and its "threat[s] to annihilate ... Israel." In other words, America should not improve relations with an Iran whose regional influence is rising.

In reality, Iran's rise is not only normal, it is actually essential to a more stable region. As nuclear talks with Tehran enter a decisive phase, rapprochement with a genuinely independent Iran -- not a nominally independent Iran whose strategic orientation is subordinated to U.S. preferences -- is vital to halting the decline of America's strategic position.

The reality is that Israel's concern about Iranian nuclearization is not that Tehran will use (at the moment nonexistent) nuclear weapons against a nuclear-armed Israel. Instead, as then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak explained in 2012, it is that a nuclear Iran would "restrict our range of operations."

But this is precisely what a truly stable balance of power requires. America needs constructive relations with all major regional states, including Iran, so that they constrain one another's reckless impulses."


*Shifting Goalposts to Kill Diplomacy with Iran*

Ellie Geranmayeh, Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations

Source: Lobelog

"Netanyahu suggested yesterday that to protect the world from a nuclear Iran, the US must take a “difficult path [that] is usually the one less travelled.” When it comes to Iran, diplomacy is in fact the difficult and less travelled path. The West has tried to constrain Iran’s role in the region through siding with Tehran’s adversaries in wartime and pursuing regime change. The West has attempted to curtail Iran’s nuclear program through unprecedented sanctions, assassinations, and cyber-warfare. These have neither boxed Iran’s nuclear program nor contained its regional reach. To the contrary, these efforts have only provided defensive justifications for Iran’s regional conduct and its quest for indigenous nuclear technology.

Conversely, the interim nuclear deal has managed to freeze and verify Iran’s nuclear program to a greater degree than ever. Those urging more sanctions and pressure on Iran claim that they seek to enhance global security. But they would achieve the opposite by sinking a decade-long diplomatic process for resolving the nuclear issue, generating profound divisions among the P5+1, and fueling Iran’s defensive rhetoric.

Diplomacy has been given a rare moment to deliver and to set a precedent for stability in a region burdened with insurmountable chaos. To wreck that diplomacy would only add to the chaos."

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

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