Answering Netanyahu

Answering Netanyahu

Now that some of the political dust has settled over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress, we join those who have tried to focus on what he actually said and whether the issues he raised should impact Washington’s ongoing negotiations with Iran. Although the headlines regarding the speech focused on Iran’s nuclear development — clearly the speech’s central theme — there was more in Netanyahu’s presentation that deserves attention.

In addition to focusing on Iran’s nuclear ambitions and capabilities, Netanyahu pointed to Iran’s repeated rejection of Israel’s right to exist, its ongoing attempt to become the regional hegemon and its ongoing support of global terrorism. None of these issues are part of the talks to rein in Iran’s nuclear capability. But these issues represent a threat to Israel and to American interests in the Middle East. The same holds for U.S. cooperation with Iran in battling the so-called Islamic State.

The Obama administration has apparently concluded that the nascent Islamic State is a greater threat to the region than established Iran. American allies including Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf countries see Iran as just as much of a threat, if not more, as it seeks to dominate the region. But the United States appears to be looking the other way on the collateral issues as it pursues a nuclear agreement. We aren’t sure why. And, unfortunately, no one is doing much explaining.

The negotiations in Geneva will resume on March 15. In the meantime, Netanyahu’s arguments have been thoroughly analyzed and debated. No such public discussion of U.S. objectives and vision is being pursued by the White House or the State Department, which utilize a false straw-man argument (our deal or the apocalypse) or simply say “trust us.” We are told that progress is being made; we are assured that appropriate verification mechanisms will be in place and that Iran will never get nuclear bomb-making capabilities. We need to know and understand more.

Specifically, we want to hear the administration’s best argument for the deal that is unfolding. Why is a deal that allows Iran to keep its nuclear infrastructure a good thing? And is it realistic to assume that the current regime will not last another 10 years as the administration appears to be projecting? Or that what will follow will be a new Iran acting as a responsible international player? And what are the disincentives to an Iran continuing to seek regional hegemony, to pursue nuclear weapons capability and to threaten its neighbors?

These are all issues that deserve public discussion and explanation. And if an agreement is reached, it needs to be laid out clearly to Congress, which should weigh in with an up or down vote.