We’ve had our issues over the years with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His decision to address Congress, however, is not one of them. Speaker Boehner’s decision to invite Netanyahu and Netanyahu’s decision to accept that invitation were appropriate given the circumstances. So just what were those circumstances?
The night before the invitation was formally proffered, President Obama announced to the world, during his State of the Union Address, that he would veto any legislation that presumed to reinstitute or increase sanctions on Iran should Iran cheat on the impending nuclear limitation agreement between Iran and the p5+1 (really the United States). Given that the presumed first target of a future Iranian nuclear weapon would be Tel Aviv, we’re inclined to cut the Israeli Prime Minister considerable slack regarding his acceptance of any invitation to go anywhere to address any audience to warn of the dangers of a Nuclear-armed Iran.
Furthermore, we’re also inclined to cut Speaker Boehner considerable slack in extending the invitation to the Israeli Prime Minister. The White House not only used the State of the Union Address to tell Congress to mind its own business (as though critical arms agreements are none of its business), but it announced (almost simultaneously) that it was planning to circumvent Congress by not seeking its approval of the impending pact after the fact.
The charge made by Obama sycophants that Netanyahu’s addressing Congress amounts to Israeli interference in a partisan American political dispute is, well, bizarre. Iran has threatened to liquidate Israel…to wipe the Jewish state off the face of the earth, and they are busily going about the task of developing the wherewithal to do just that. If anything, Israel fears this Administration is compromising its ability to defend itself in the years ahead, by acquiescing to Iran becoming nuclear threshold state – a state that can weaponize its nuclear capability at a time of its choosing.
This Administration simply does not want the American people to hear a cogent case against a bad deal by the one person who can make that case better than anyone in the world.
Critics argue that Netanyahu is trying to bolster his prospects in Israel’s elections scheduled for March 17th. That may be true (although polls in Israel suggest that that would be a recklessly unnecessary strategy), but so what. If Iran’s nuclear ambitions pose an existential threat to Israel’s existence it is quite irrelevant if articulating that helps any candidate.
Others argue that Netanyahu could have waited until after Israel’s March 17 elections to come and address Congress. That argument is, in our opinion, either disingenuous or naïve. The go-no/go deadline for continuation of the nuclear talks is March 24, which would mean an address to Congress after the Israeli elections, would come when there would be little or no time to alter the course of the talks. The die would have been cast (if it already isn’t).
The New York Times this week echoed an editorial theme, which has been widespread in the nation’s press. Their editorial’s concluding paragraph opines, “Mr. Netanyahu, who is scheduled to address Congress next week, has already denounced the deal. The agreement must be judged on the complete package, not on any single provision…” Really? It would only take one provision to poison the well if that provision enables Iran to keep enriching uranium with enrichment technology they already have and refuse to dismantle.
If Iran has the ability (technology) to produce a nuclear weapon and they are allowed to keep that technology and, indeed, to continue enriching uranium, everything else may be little more than window dressing. The Times editorial concluded with, “Even if the deal is not perfect, the greater risk could well be walking away and allowing Iran to continue its nuclear activities unfettered.” Unfettered? Iran is at the negotiating table because both Presidents Bush (43) and Obama, signed legislation that imposed crippling economic sanctions on Iran. We know of no one who has suggested that Iran might be allowed to continue its nuclear activity “unfettered.” The Administration, however, is so worried that Iran would walk away from the talks if Congress stipulated that tough sanctions would be re-imposed should Iran discontinue the negotiations or if Iran cheated on any deal that is reached, that the President has publically (and foolishly, in our opinion) committed himself to vetoing any legislation that makes that clear.
Now we appreciate that the Iranian nuclear problem is not merely a product of this Administration’s making. Not by a long shot. Four prior Administrations have failed to deal effectively with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But we are at a very decisive moment that is unfolding on President Obama’s watch — and that of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Netanyahu knows perfectly well what address would be posted on Iran’s first nuclear weapons, and his determination to present Israel’s case to anyone who will listen is understandable. The hyperventilated pique evidenced at the White House has little to do with a protocol misstep, and everything to do with a desire to keep a critique of the evolving agreement from being aired to a large American audience.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice opined during a Charlie Rose interview this week that Netanyahu’s speech had “injected a degree of partisanship” into a relationship that should be above politics. “It’s destructive to the fabric of the relationship,” Rice told the Charlie Rose show. “It’s always been bipartisan. We need to keep it that way.” Huh? Israel’s very real fear that we are negotiating a deal with Iran that could give Iran the wherewithal to deliver on its often stated belief that Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth, is trivialized to “injecting a degree of partisanship into a relationship that should be above politics.”
Israel believes its very survival is the issue and why shouldn’t they? Iran announces on a regular basis that Israel’s survival is the issue. The Administration announced that it would veto any legislation that re-imposed strict sanctions if the talks failed, and then announced its intention to circumvent Congress altogether in implementing any deal Obama reaches with Iran. It was the Administration that injected a degree of partisanship into the Iran nuclear issue.
We appreciate that the President has great confidence in his persuasive ability, but we’ll cut Prime Minister Netanyahu quite a bit of slack in not sharing that confidence. Netanyahu and Obama have been conditioned by very different circumstances. Netanyahu understands his neighborhood and Israel’s sworn enemies who occupy it quite well. He enlisted in the Israel Defense Force during the 1967 six-day war. Netanyahu quickly became a team leader in Sayeret Matkal, Israel’s Special Forces unit that has played a key role in the rescue of hostages. He was wounded during the successful rescue of hijacked passengers aboard a Sebena Airlines flight in 1972. He also saw action at the front lines (and was wounded again) during the War of Attrition with Egypt and he fought in the 1973 war when Egypt attacked Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holy days.
He takes Iran’s threats to wipe his country off the face of the earth at face value. We should too. Speaker Boehner has invited Netanyahu to share his concerns with the Congress. He has accepted. It is the right place and the right time.