Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the emerging nuclear deal between the United States, Iran, and the major world powers during a drama-filled address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday morning, but failed to offer any alternatives for ensuring that Tehran does not obtain nuclear weapons.
Instead, the Prime Minister of the Jewish state — who spoke for 40 minutes and was interrupted by applause roughly 40 times — hinted that his country could take military action “alone” against Iran in protest of any negotiated agreement.
Though the negotiations to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons have yet to produce a final accord, and Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly insisted that publicly available details about the talks are “not true,” Netanyahu warned that the United States is preparing to sign-off on an agreement that “all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons, lots of them.”
“As a prime minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand,” he declared, eliciting loud applause from the chamber.
According to press accounts, the United States, Iran, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany, are in fact closing the gap around an agreement that would establish multi-year regime of strict inspections and controls on Iran’s uranium enrichment — preventing it from obtaining enough materials for weaponization. Should Iran comply, the international community would then lift economic sanctions against the country during the final five years. American officials insist that the United States is “looking for a deal that will prove over the long term” and will only sign off on an agreement that ensures that “each pathway to a bomb is closed off.”
“[W]e are adamant about not doing a deal that can’t withstand scrutiny,” Kerry said during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week. Indeed, the Americans and Europeans are hoping that the diplomatic approach would tie Iran’s hands for a decade or longer until a new generation of democratically elected leaders take power and abandon the ways of the old regime. They also believe that the talks are preferable to the alternative: a military confrontation with Iran and Israel, the United States, or others.
But Netanyahu, who compared the current Iranian regime to ISIS, argued that Israel cannot accept such a gamble and predicted that Iran “will become even more aggressive and sponsor even more terrorism when its economy is unshackled and it is given a clear path to the bomb.” He urged the United States not to negotiate with the regime until it changes its behavior: renounces its aggression in the region, repudiates its backing of violent extremism and stops “threatening to annihilate my country, Israel, the one and only Jewish state.”
Specifically, Netanyahu objected to any agreement that leaves Iran with “a vast nuclear infrastructure” — potentially allowing it to develop its program out of sight of the inspectors — and sunsets controls on the nuclear program. American officials have already rejected such a bid, however. As National Security Adviser Susan Rice explained during a speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference on Monday night, “If we insist on no enrichment, our partners will abandon us,” she said. “Simply put, that is not a viable nor obtainable negotiating position.” The administration has also argued that increasing sanctions against Iran would lead Tehran to abandon the negotiations and increase the probability that it will build a bomb.
Netanyahu did not offer any specific alternatives to the Obama administration’s approach or solutions to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The Prime Minister only suggested that the administration work to strike “a much better deal” that wipes out Iran’s entire nuclear infrastructure and maintains sanctions against the country “until Iran’s aggression ends.”
Under President George W. Bush’s similar policy of zero-enrichment, Iran’s centrifuges grew from 164 in 2003 to approximately 19,000 centrifuges today, and Bush officials eventually conceded during his presidency that “there was no way to reach a deal without Iran retaining at least a face-saving amount of enrichment capability.” The Obama administration kicked off this latest round of negotiations only after reaching an interim agreement with Iran that has frozen Iran’s nuclear program and rolled back its stockpiles of enriched uranium. Inspectors confirm that Iran is holding up the bargain.
Iran and its negotiating partners must agree to broad principles on limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities no later than March 24 and reach an agreement on the technical aspects of the deal by June 30.
Speaking to reporters, President Barack Obama said that “as far as I can tell, there was nothing new” in Netanyahu’s speech. However, Obama said he agreed that “Iran has been a dangerous regime and continues to engage in activities that are contrary to the interests of the United States, to Israel, and to the region.” “On the core issue, which is how do we prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon which would make it far more dangerous and would give it scope further in the region, the Prime Minister didn’t offer any viable alternatives,” he noted.
Obama insisted that he would only agree to a deal that “would cut off the different pathways for Iran’s advanced nuclear capabilities, it would roll back some elements of its program, it wound insure that it did not have what we call a breakout capacity that was shorter to a year’s time and it would subject Iran to the most vigorous inspection regimes than have ever been put in place.” “The alternative that the Prime Minister offers is no deal, in which case Iran will immediately begin once again pursuing its unclear program, accelerate its nuclear program without us having any insight into what they were doing and without inspections.” Obama also noted that Netanyahu’s preferred solution of increasing sanctions have not stopped Iran from pursuing and expanding its nuclear capabilities.