Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress

Today at 11am EST Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his third speech to the US Congress joining Winston Churchill as the only other foreign leader in history to have addressed a Joint Session of Congress three times. On the eve of final negotiations between the US (and other powers) and Iran over a proposed nuclear deal with Iran, Netanyahu came to lay out the case for rejecting the deal proposed.

Unlike his two previous addresses, this one was shrouded in controversy in that the invitation by Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner was not sanctioned by the Obama Administration. Various administration proxies have used time in the run up to the speech to criticize Netanyahu (who faces a Knesset election in Israel in 2 weeks’ time) of politicizing the negotiations with Iran. The intense opposition from the Obama administration has seen 37 Democrat Representatives and Senators boycott the speech – an action itself unprecedented.

Netanyahu acknowledged the controversy and paid as much tribute to Obama as he could muster given how fraught their relationship has become but he wasted no time laying out why the proposed deal with Iran is bad. A good percentage of his speech was a lesson in recent Iranian history and of the many acts of terrorism perpetrated by Iran on Middle Eastern states, US interests and Israel. Netanyahu has stated many times that the greatest threat to world peace is militant jihadist Islam married to nuclear weapons. As Prime Minister of the state of Israel, job One is the protection of the Jewish state.  Whilst many world leaders saw the replacement of the belligerent Ahmadinejad with the more demur and softly spoken Rouhani as President of Iran as a sign of the softening of the Iranian regime, Netanyahu lays out the actions and statements of Rouhani since assuming power as evidence that the jihadist and terrorist mindset of the Islamic republic has not changed.

Netanyahu made six key points:

  1. The leopard has not changed its spots – Iran remains an implacable enemy of Israel AND the US.
  2. The allure of using Iran to combat ISIS is a mirage – that in the case of ISIS, the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy and that to adopt such a strategy might mean the battle against ISIS is won but the war against militant Islam is lost because Iran is by far the more dangerous of the two due to its armies, missiles and quest for nuclear weapons enabling Iran to strike far beyond just the Mesopotamian reach of ISIS.
  3. The proposed deal doesn’t impede Iran from getting nuclear weapons – it provides a pathway to such weapons. The proposed inspection regime is similar to the one that failed to contain North Korea from obtaining the bomb because rogue regimes and dictatorships never comply with agreements or feel compelled to honour treaties.
  4. No deal is not worse than this deal – the option to this bad deal is a better deal; one that continues to contain and constrain Iran.
  5. If Iran wants to be treated like a normal nation it should act like a normal nation – it should renounce terror in the Middle East and globally and it should cease to threaten to annihilate Israel. It should be allowed to continue a nuclear programme only if it behaves like other nations that seek peace.
  6. After acknowledging in the gallery Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel (a holocaust survivor), Netanyahu reminded the world that if necessary Israel would act alone. He repeated the cry “never again” and said that the Jewish people after 100 generations could now finally defend themselves.

Netanyahu is a bold and uncompromising figure. It was an open and direct challenge to Obama’s attempt at a legacy-making historic deal with Iran. Such a defiant challenge to a sitting US President has left some Israelis and many US Jews nervous of the damage to US relations. Whilst it is easy to dismiss this speech as a re-election ploy, it is important to note that Obama has shifted the stance of the US on a nuclear Iran from a “no options are off the table” to prevent Iran obtaining the bomb to a wishy washy regime that has enough holes that a duplicitous state anxious to get its own way can easy thwart. There is a sense amongst progressive elites that a nuclear Iran is inevitable and to cut the best deal possible.

This attitude was reminiscent of the prevailing elite opinion in Britain in the 1930’s as Hitler rose to, and gained in, power. Churchill’s warnings were dismissed as the ranting of an out of touch political has-been past his prime….until he was proven right. In the midst of an Israeli media firestorm of opposition, the taunts of his political opponents in Israel and the best efforts of Obama’s water carriers to denigrate the speech and Netanyahu’s “unhelpful” world view, he went over all their heads straight to the only people who can stop Obama doing a bad deal – the US Congress. Judging by the rapturous reception he got, he stands a good chance of succeeding hence why Obama was so implacably opposed to the speech. Netanyahu came across as confident, factual and determined whereas Obama as cerebral, inconsistent (shifting red lines) and the appeaser he has become.

Finally Netanyahu announced what I had long believed to be his bottom line – that if the US won’t lead the charge to prevent Iran getting nukes, that Israel would act alone militarily to at least blunt and delay what is rightly seen as an existential threat to the very existence of Israel.

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