Larry Snider

Meltdown: US-Israel Relations after The Speech

Wow! It was a home-run for the Prime Minister and simultaneously a home-run against the Obama Administration’s goal of concluding a nuclear agreement in the Spring of 2015 with Iran. It was one of those speeches that everyone hears differently depending on their political orientation. I happen to be an American Jew who has voted twice for President Obama, is pretty much a lifelong Democrat, but one who recognizes the existential threat to the state of Israel posed by the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon. As such I have skin in the game, but I’m not beholden to either the President or the Prime Minister.

The early returns from Democrats who believe in the value of President Obama’s Iranian initiative came out swinging in the aftermath of The Speech: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said “As one who values the US-Israel relationship and loves Israel, I was near tears throughout the prime minister’s speech — saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States,” she said. Pelosi continued that she was “saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.”

According to NPR President Obama said “there was nothing new” in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech on Iran to a joint meeting of Congress.

Speaking at the White House, Obama said, “the prime minister didn’t offer any viable alternatives” to the possible deal being worked out with Iran on its nuclear program.

Back in Israel speaking from a site near the Gaza border Netanyahu’s primary election opponent, Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog said; “There is no doubt the prime minister knows how to speak well, but the truth is that the speech, as impressive as it was, will not prevent a nuclear Iran and won’t impact a deal that is being drafted — not on its content, nor on its timetable,” he said.

Herzog said Netanyahu should have worked with President Obama, not against him, to get a better deal.

“The painful truth is that after all the applause, Netanyahu is alone and Israel is isolated, and the negotiations will continue without Israel’s input,” Herzog said.

Secretary of State John Kerry commented on Wednesday after concluding a three day negotiation with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Switzerland: Kerry said that “any deal we reach would give us the intrusive access and verification measures necessary to confirm that Iran’s nuclear facilities are indeed on a peaceful path.

“That would allow us to promptly detect any attempt to cheat or break out and then to respond appropriately.”

But he cautioned that the so-called P5+1 countries — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany — negotiating with Iran would not “be distracted by external factors or politics”.

There are many quotes from the speech that deserve to be reviewed and carefully considered. I have chosen three:

1) “Don’t be fooled. The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America. Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam. One calls itself the Islamic Republic. The other calls itself the Islamic State. Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire first on the region and then on the entire world. They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire. In this deadly game of thrones, there’s no place for America or for Israel, no peace for Christians, Jews or Muslims who don’t share the Islamist medieval creed, no rights for women, no freedom for anyone. So when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.”

2) “Absent a dramatic change, we know for sure that any deal with Iran will include two major concessions to Iran.

The first major concession would leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure, providing it with a short break-out time to the bomb. Break-out time is the time it takes to amass enough weapons-grade uranium or plutonium for a nuclear bomb. According to the deal, not a single nuclear facility would be demolished. Thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium would be left spinning. Thousands more would be temporarily disconnected, but not destroyed. Because Iran’s nuclear program would be left largely intact, Iran’s break-out time would be very short — about a year by U.S. assessment, even shorter by Israel’s.”

“But the second major concession creates an even greater danger that Iran could get to the bomb by keeping the deal. Because virtually all the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program will automatically expire in about a decade. Now, a decade may seem like a long time in political life, but it’s the blink of an eye in the life of a nation. It’s a blink of an eye in the life of our children. We all have a responsibility to consider what will happen when Iran’s nuclear capabilities are virtually unrestricted and all the sanctions will have been lifted. Iran would then be free to build a huge nuclear capacity that could product many, many nuclear bombs. Iran’s Supreme Leader says that openly. He says, Iran plans to have 190,000 centrifuges, not 6,000 or even the 19,000 that Iran has today, but 10 times that amount — 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium. With this massive capacity, Iran could make the fuel for an entire nuclear arsenal and this in a matter of weeks, once it makes that decision.”

3) “We can insist that restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program not be lifted for as long as Iran continues its aggression in the region and in the world. Before lifting those restrictions, the world should demand that Iran do three things. First, stop its aggression against its neighbors in the Middle East. Second, stop supporting terrorism around the world. And third, stop threatening to annihilate my country, Israel, the one and only Jewish state.”

Who’s right? If everyone agrees that Iran’s nuclear development must be stopped, why can’t anyone agree on how to do it? I hope and pray that now that ‘The Speech’ has been given it will help to determine a viable bottom line without throwing a monkey wrench into the negotiations that makes the best agreement possible unachievable.

David Ignatius of the Washington Post said it better: “What Netanyahu did Tuesday was raise the bar for Obama. Any deal that the administration signs will have to address the concerns Netanyahu voiced. Given what’s at stake in the Middle East, that’s probably a good thing. As administration officials said at the outset of negotiations, no deal is better than a bad one. The Israeli prime minister’s speech, for all its divisive political consequences, served to sharpen the focus on what a good deal would look like.”


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.