The Wall STREET JOURNAL
The Israeli Prime Minister takes apart the looming Iran deal.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Photo: Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
President Obama thought so little of Benjamin Netanyahu ’s speech to Congress Tuesday that he made clear he hadn’t watched it and said the text didn’t “offer any viable alternatives” to the Administration’s pending nuclear deal with Iran. We’ll take that presidential passive-aggression as evidence that the Israeli Prime Minister’s critique was as powerful as Mr. Obama feared.
For all the White House’s fretting beforehand about the speech’s potential damage to U.S.-Israel relations, Mr. Netanyahu was both bipartisan and gracious to Mr. Obama for all he “has done for Israel,” citing examples previously not publicly known. But the power of the speech—the reason the Israeli leader was willing to risk breaking diplomatic china to give it—was its systematic case against the looming nuclear deal.
Point by point, he dismantled the emerging details and assumptions of what he called a “very bad deal.” The heart of his critique concerned the nature of the Iranian regime as a terror sponsor of long-standing that has threatened to “annihilate” Israel and is bent on regional domination.
The Administration argues that a nuclear accord will help move the revolutionary regime toward moderation. But Mr. Netanyahu spent some 15 minutes laying out the regime’s historical record. Since Hasan Rouhani became president in 2013, Iran’s internal repression has become worse than in the days of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad . Iran has doubled down on its military support for Bashar Assad in Syria, gained control of north Yemen through its Houthi militia proxies, and continued to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and Shiite militias in Iraq.
Mr. Netanyahu noted that the pending deal would lift the economic sanctions that have driven Iran to the negotiating table. “Would Iran be less aggressive when sanctions are removed and its economy is stronger?” Mr. Netanyahu asked. “Why should Iran’s radical regime change for the better when it can enjoy the best of both worlds: aggression abroad, prosperity at home?” These are good questions that the Administration should be obliged to answer.
The Prime Minister also rightly raised doubts about whether even an intrusive inspections regime could guarantee enough notice if Iran seeks to divert its nuclear capabilities to build a bomb. North Korea agreed to inspectors in a deal with the Clinton Administration, he noted, only to oust them years later and build its nuclear arsenal: “Here’s the problem: You see, inspectors document violations; they don’t stop them.”
He also zeroed in on the deal’s acceptance of Iran’s already robust nuclear infrastructure, coupled with a 10-year sunset provision after which Iran could enrich as much uranium in as many centrifuges as it likes. To appreciate the scope of this concession, recall that the Administration and U.N. Security Council demanded that Iran “halt all enrichment activities” in a resolution adopted in 2010.
The Administration now says that it can’t plausibly forbid Iran from having some enrichment capability. But the only alternative to zero enrichment isn’t the major capacity the White House is now prepared to concede to Tehran. Such a capability makes it easier for Iran to cheat on any agreement it signs. The sunset provision also means that Iran can simply bide its time to build an even larger nuclear capacity.
“Iran could get to the bomb by violating the deal,” Mr. Netanyahu said, and it could also “get to a bomb by keeping the deal.”
Mr. Netanyahu was especially effective in rebutting the Administration’s claim that the only alternatives at the current moment are Mr. Obama’s deal—or war. This is the familiar false choice—his way or disaster—that has become a hallmark of the President’s political argumentation.
But Mr. Netanyahu said there is a third choice—negotiate a better deal. He pointed out that sanctions had driven Iran to the negotiating table when oil was $100 a barrel and it would be under greater pressure now when oil is closer to $50. For all of its fanaticism and ambition, Iran is still a relatively weak country under great economic pressure. The U.S. has leverage to drive a harder bargain if it is willing to use it.
Mr. Netanyahu hinted that he could still accept some kind of agreement, despite attempts to portray him as opposed to any concessions. But the Prime Minister made clear in particular that any sunset provision would only be acceptable if it hinged on a change in Iran’s behavior.
“If the world powers are not prepared to insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal is signed, at the very least they should insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal expires,” he said to a standing ovation.
Given Mr. Obama’s reaction, the Prime Minister knows his real audience is Congress and the American people. His speech raised serious doubts about an accord that has been negotiated in secret and which Mr. Obama wants Americans to accept without a vote in Congress. Now maybe we can have a debate worthy of the high nuclear stakes.
Netanyahu’s Forceful but Misguided Address
His logic should lead him to urge an Iranian regime change, but he knows that won’t sell in the U.S.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of the United States Congress in the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol March 3, 2015. Photo: Getty Images
William A. Galston
In a speech delivered Tuesday to a joint meeting of Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forcefully laid out his objections to the terms of the nuclear agreement that the U.S. and its negotiating partners may be on the verge of reaching with the government of Iran. “For over a year,” he declared, “we’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, this is a bad deal. It’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it.”
Mr. Netanyahu and other critics of the current negotiations are dismayed by the size of the nuclear program that Iran would be allowed to retain, and they are especially unhappy about the agreement’s reported “sunset clause”—the time limit after which the negotiated restraints would lapse. Unless the Iranian regime changes fundamentally, critics ask, why would it be any more trustworthy in 2025 than it is today?
In fairness, no one is entirely satisfied wit
h the agreement taking shape. As Robert Einhorn, a key member of the U.S. team from 2009-13 puts it, “Banning enrichment and dismantling Iran’s existing enrichment facilities would indeed be the best negotiated outcome.” The difficulty, he adds, is that “such an agreement is not attainable.” (We could have gotten a lot closer if the Bush administration had not spurned a much more forthcoming Iranian offer a decade ago.)
One of the strongest arguments in favor of the deal is that even after the agreement ends, the Iranians would still face multiple restraints. As a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran would stand under a continuing obligation not to become a nuclear-armed state.
In addition, the Iranians would be required to adhere to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s “Additional Protocols,” the terms of which increase the IAEA’s authority to inspect nuclear-related facilities and to demand information. To enforce this rigorous inspection regime, the U.S. would make clear its determination to impose severe punishments, including military force, in response to Iranian noncompliance. And to give enforcement time to work, the agreement would have to establish restrictions on Iran’s technology (as the deal reportedly will) that will leave the Islamic Republic at least a year away from the bomb.
Still, this emerging agreement entails substantial uncertainties and risks. The question is whether another course of action exists that holds the prospect of better results.
Mr. Netanyahu is certain that one does. “Iran’s nuclear program can be rolled back well beyond the current proposal by insisting on a better deal,” he told Congress, “and keeping up the pressure on a very vulnerable regime, especially given the recent collapse in the price of oil.” And if Iran threatens to walk away from the table? “Call their bluff,” he said. “They’ll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do. And by maintaining the pressure on Iran and on those who do business with Iran, you have the power to make them need it even more.”
But how confident can we be about this assessment? The evidence that increased economic pressure would make Iran more compliant is weak at best. Rather than accept a U.S. diktat, Iran’s leaders have suggested that their country would hunker down and accept economic isolation as the cost of national independence. If we impose new sanctions, they might well walk away from the current interim agreement and speed the expansion of their nuclear program. And then what?
There is a contradiction at the heart of the Israeli prime minister’s argument. If Ayatollah Khamenei is a Hitler (Mr. Netanyahu made the analogy), we cannot do business with him, and we shouldn’t try. If Iran is really determined, as Mr. Netanyahu insists, “to impose a militant Islamic empire first on the region and then on the entire world,” then why should we believe that any diplomatic outcome will make Tehran more tractable? Negotiations with the Nazis in the 1930s just whetted their appetite. The point isn’t a better or worse deal, it’s regime change.
If the prime minister had followed his own logic, that is where he would have ended up—urging regime change in Tehran. But he couldn’t, because he knows that the American people are still reeling from their government’s ill-starred effort to effect regime change in Iraq. (Our prior effort to do that in Iran set in motion a chain of events that led to the Islamic Republic.) Instead, he offers the unsupported hope that more sanctions will bring Iran to its knees. This is wishful thinking masquerading as hardheaded realism.
We have to face facts. We cannot entirely eliminate Iran’s capacity to enrich nuclear materials—even through a military strike. The best we can do is mix carrots and sticks, inspections and surveillance to deter Iran from breaking through negotiated limits and racing toward nuclear weapons.
Judged against the ideal, the emerging deal doesn’t look good. Judged against feasible goals and actual alternatives, it looks a lot better.
The New York Times
The Opinion Pages | Editorial
The New York Times
The Opinion Pages | Editorial
Mr. Netanyahu’s Unconvincing Speech to Congress
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel could not have hoped for a more rapturous welcome in Congress. With Republicans and most Democrats as his props, he entered the House of Representatives to thunderous applause on Tuesday, waving his hand like a conquering hero and being mobbed by fawning lawmakers as he made his way to the lectern.
Even Washington doesn’t often see this level of exploitative political theater; it was made worse because it was so obviously intended to challenge President Obama’s foreign policy.
Mr. Netanyahu’s speech offered nothing of substance that was new, making it clear that this performance was all about proving his toughness on security issues ahead of the parliamentary election he faces on March 17. He offered no new insight on Iran and no new reasons to reject the agreement being negotiated with Iran by the United States and five other major powers to constrain Iran’s nuclear program.
His demand that Mr. Obama push for a better deal is hollow. He clearly doesn’t want negotiations and failed to suggest any reasonable alternative approach that could halt Iran’s nuclear efforts.
Moreover, he appeared to impose new conditions, insisting that international sanctions not be lifted as long as Iran continues its aggressive behavior, including hostility toward Israel and support for Hezbollah, which has called for Israel’s destruction.
Mr. Netanyahu has two main objections. One is that an agreement would not force Iran to dismantle its nuclear facilities and would leave it with the ability to enrich uranium and, in time, to produce enough nuclear fuel for a bomb. Two, that a deal to severely restrict Iran’s ability to produce nuclear fuel for a decade or more is not long enough. He also dismisses the potential effectiveness of international inspections to deter Iran from cheating.
While an agreement would not abolish the nuclear program, which Iran says it needs for power generation and medical purposes, neither would walking away. Even repeated bombing of Iran’s nuclear plants would not eliminate its capability because Iran and its scientists have acquired the nuclear know-how over the past six decades to rebuild the program in a couple of years.
The one approach that might constrain Iran is tough negotiations, which the United States and its partners Britain, France, China, Germany and Russia have rightly committed to. If an agreement comes together, it would establish verifiable limits on the nuclear program that do not now exist and ensure that Iran could not quickly produce enough weapons-usable material for a bomb. The major benefit for Iran is that it would gradually be freed of many of the onerous international sanctions that have helped cripple its economy.
While no Iranian facilities are expected to be dismantled, critical installations are expected to be reconfigured so they are less of a threat and the centrifuge machines used to enrich uranium would be reduced. Iran would be barred from enriching uranium above 5 percent, the level needed for power generation and medical uses but not sufficient for producing weapons-grade nuclear fuel. Absent a negotiated agreement, Iran will continue with its program without constraints.
Islamic regime and the danger it poses to Israel and to regional stability through its support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Shiite militias in Baghdad, rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon.