Larry Snider

A Mess beyond Speaking to Congress

It’s Friday and I just read that John Lewis, a true American hero from the Civil Rights Movement announced to a DC audience at Busboys and Poets that he would not be attending the upcoming speech by Benjamin Netanyahu to Congress. John Lewis is a man of incredible strength, moral courage and a wisdom that come from deep down. I have admired him for most of my life.

I watch, and look and listen and read way too much about Israel, Palestine and their ongoing conflict every day and have for more than fifteen years. Some would say I write too much too! But this issue is about a political conflict wrapped in a debate over diplomacy and the divergent understanding of two leaders and two nations over the conduct of negotiations with a nation formerly known for its membership in the Axis of Evil and its promotion of terror and its desire to obtain and maybe even utilize a nuclear weapon. Of course, there has been little love lost between the President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives either.

Truth be told, I’m not happy with the conduct of U.S. foreign policy and neither have I been thrilled by the lack of progress toward peace facilitated at least in part by the Prime Minister of Israel. Being a liberal American Jew who has traveled to Israel/Palestine multiple times including when I put together an Interfaith Delegation in 2008 I started out believing in Change and wondering how a conservative Israeli government could accommodate it as it searched for a viable path to peace. A lot of bumpy road has been covered and everybody seems to remain more than discomforted. But underneath there are serious, (some might say), deadly questions about the process of negotiations and the potential for an agreement controlling the nuclear development of Iran by limiting the number of centrifuges and/or the amount of uranium that they produce.

“The range of our missiles covers all of Israel today. That means the fall of the Zionist regime, which will certainly come soon,” said General Mohammad Ali Jafari, Commander of the 125,000 man Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution in November 2014. While this isn’t the policy being presented by the “moderate,” President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani to the P5 + 1, it certainly underlines the danger and the fear of a nuclear Iran expressed by the Prime Minister of Israel.

To make matters worse even as President Rouhani and his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Javad Zarif have worked hard to recast the Iranian government into a post Ahmedinejad era of engagement Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated recently that “whether a nuclear agreement is achieved or not, Israel will be more insecure each day.”

According to the Wall Street Journal way back in December 2009 Iran said it fired an “optimized” version of its Sajjil-2, a medium-range missile capable of hitting Israel.

Since Iran supports Hamas and Hezbollah and has shared a variety of its missile technology it is not difficult to imagine that it might even share a nuclear weapon with its Lebanese and Palestinian partners.

Does all of this represent an existential threat to the state of Israel? I believe that it does. Does this threat to Israel represent a threat on a far higher level than any threat that Iran poses to the United States? I believe that it does. If this is the case; is it necessary for the Prime Minister of Israel to do everything in his power to confront this existential threat? I believe it is. Does that include challenging the basis for current negotiations, the framework of the Joint Plan of Action that has been in effect since January 2014 and the structure of the agreement due by March 31, 2015? Yes.

There is no doubt that with Israeli political elections on March 17th the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the House weighed the advantage for Netanyahu in appearing for the third time before a joint session of Congress and receiving all the applause of two parties who each strongly support Israel. In breaking protocol and challenging the United States government and its diplomatic initiative with Iran by scheduling such an appearance the Speaker and the Prime Minister clearly stepped beyond the limits of normal procedures and politically defied the White House and the President.

The President has aggressively acted to apply an international sanctions regime that squeezed the Iranian economy and its people hard enough to elicit a change in government. Whether the change is substantive or only skin deep remains to be seen. What is on the table is the opportunity to resolve a nuclear issue without resorting to a military attack on Iran and the anticipated and unanticipated response. Are the terms being negotiated severe enough to prevent Iran from the production of a nuclear weapon? There is a marked difference of opinion between Israel and the United States and another between Republicans and Democrats with former Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez, (D), providing a famous quote:

“I have to be honest with you,” Menendez said, “the more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran. It feeds to the Iranian narrative of victimization when they are the ones with original sin. An illicit nuclear weapons program going back over the course of 20 years that they are unwilling to come clean on.”

All of this has done great damage to approaching and resolving the military issues that are at the heart of this political pandemonium. The fear is tangible and Iran has killed many more than its share of people directly, by terror and by proxy. So for this liberal Democrat I think it’s important for Netanyahu to grab whatever microphone he can, (even with all the partisanship), and tell us what he thinks, because this is a question of life and death and thus all of us must do our best to listen carefully and respond thoughtfully.

About the Author
Larry Snider was President of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace a non-profit based in suburban Philadelphia. Today he lives in New Jersey and is a Board Member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern New Jersey.