The Israeli government has been outspoken in its criticism of what it perceives as a conciliatory approach by the administration of US President Barack Obama. A small group of Democrats reportedly boycotted Tuesday’s speech, citing allegations that it violated diplomatic protocol and insulted the president. But congresspersons from both parties have generally maintained a much more hardline stance than Obama on the nuclear issue.
Netanyahu’s speech was preceded on Monday by the start of a three day conference of the American Israeli Political Action Committee, as well as other events aimed at countering the Obama administration’s handling of Iran and its nuclear program. The US Senate hosted a discussion titled “The Meaning of Never Again: Guarding Against a Nuclear Iran,” with participation from Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.
The Times of Israel reports that in his remarks, Cruz accused US negotiators of fundamentally misunderstanding the Islamic Republic of Iran and mistakenly assuming that it will be a rational actor in the future, capable of being trusted with nuclear weapons.
Netanyahu made reference to this perceived naivety as well, alleging that the agreement that is currently on the negotiating table between Iran and the US would “all but guarantee” that Iran acquires a nuclear weapon. Preceding commentary about Iran’s overall role in the region intimated that the reasons for such a permissive deal might include an interest in partnering with Iran against other threats such as the Islamic State.
But Netanyahu insisted, to thunderous applause from the congressional attendees, that in the case of Iran and ISIS, the enemy of an enemy cannot be a friend. The Israeli Prime Minister also pointed to the commonalities between the two groups, arguing that they are merely competing to be the dominant extremist power in the Middle East. Iran possesses an “ideology deeply rooted in militant Islam,” Netanyahu said, and as such “will always be an enemy of America.”
Some of Netanyahu’s allies on this issue feel that the Obama administration’s opposition to his speech is a response to concerns that the speech will not only enhance resistance to the president’s agenda, but also expose plain facts about the administration courting an overly close relationship with a still-dangerous regime. According to Arutz Sheva, Marc Zell, an attorney and co-chair of the American-Israeli advocacy group Republicans Abroad Israel, predicted ahead of the speech that Netanyahu would expose “big cover-up in the agreement with Iran.”
Zell also asserted that Netanyahu was performing “an important service for the nation of Israel” by helping to prevent the further ascendance of a nation that has repeatedly threated the destruction of the Jewish state. The Tower indicates that the vast majority of Israelis agree with this sentiment. That is, both sides of the political spectrum in Israel agree that the deal that is currently taking shape appears to be a very bad deal. This applies even to many of the politicians who have questioned the wisdom of Netanyahu’s speech and its impact on US-Israel relations.
The Tower also seems to endorse Zell’s notion of a cover-up, although it describes it more delicately as a series of exaggerations. Specifically, it points to a Reuters interview with Obama that was published on Monday, in which he claimed that Iran has been fully in compliance with the Joint Plan of Action governing nuclear negotiations and has in fact scaled back its nuclear program.
The Tower contradicts these points by observing that the Islamic Republic has fed uranium through more advanced centrifuges in apparent violation of the JPOA and has steadily increased the amount of uranium that it could further enrich in order to utilize in a nuclear weapon.
The same article notes that Obama has parroted the claims of Iranian officials by claiming that economic sanctions had been ineffective at curtailing the Iranian nuclear program and had led from Iran’s possession of only a few hundred centrifuges to its possession of nearly 20,000. Indeed, Iran’s official Fars News Agency made similar claims on Tuesday, quoting Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jashangiri as saying that Iran has “turned the sanctions into opportunities at a time when everyone thought that Iran should surrender,” and has autonomously developed advanced technologies.
But critics find that claims of this sort constitute rhetorical efforts to deny the real effects of international isolation and to boost morale among supporters of the regime. The Tower supports this interpretation by pointing out that claims about sanctions-defying increases in centrifuge stockpiles contradict earlier remarks by the regime officials.
“According to Rouhani the biggest leap in the number of centrifuges occurred before sanctions were imposed,” The Tower reports, adding, “Unlike [Iranian Foreign Minister] Zarif, who was arguing against painful sanctions, Rouhani had little reason to lie.”
This supports what appears to be the most common perception of the international sanctions, which is that they were largely responsible for bringing Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. And yet in spite of the apparent economic pain that Iran has suffered at the hands of efforts to constrain its nuclear program, the regime continues to resist those efforts at the negotiating table, insisting upon hardline positions that are extremely distant from the original demands of Western powers.
Case in point, Reuters reports that Zarif described as “excessive and illogical” the Obama administration’s demand that Iran freeze its nuclear activities for 10 years – long understood to be the minimum time frame for an agreement that Western negotiators would find acceptable. And yet, as emphasized in Netanyahu’s speech and other critical communications on the topic, this time frame is also considered unacceptable by hardline opponents of the Iranian nuclear program.
Many of those same opponents explain Iran’s resistance to arguably low demands in terms of the Obama administration giving away leverage in the nuclear talks by providing unconditional sanctions relief, urging cooperation against the Islamic State, virtually eliminating the threat of military force, and so on.
Some of Obama’s critics, including some in his own government, have specifically advocated for serious sanctions and military threats as a way of pressuring Iran to finally compromise. For instance, the Salt Lake City Tribune quotes Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz as saying that he would approve of pre-emptive strikes aimed at destroying any nuclear facilities that the Islamic Republic creates.