Mr Prime Minister — just say no

Prime Minister Netanyahu was invited to speak to a joint session of Congress about the importance of furthering sanctions against Iran. Accepting the invitation is a colossal mistake. I urge the Prime Minister to just say ‘no….thank you.’

My counsel is not based on the timing of the upcoming Israeli elections and the optics of the incumbent Prime Minister standing before Israel’s most valuable ally and its elected leadership.

My counsel is not based on the role of pawn the Prime Minister might be being played into by Republican Congressional leadership against a Democratic President.

My counsel is not based on the poor timing of the invitation being extended and accepted just hours after the State of the Union address and breaking protocol with the White House.

My counsel is based on one simple, critical and undeniable fact: Iran sanctions are in the best interest of the United States. We do not need a leader of a foreign country coming to tell the United States the benefits of enacting these sanctions. While true, these sanctions help the United States and all of its citizens. De-facto, that helps Israel, and all of America’s allies.

Do we want Angela Merkel standing before our elected officials explaining how best to deal with immigration or Francoise Hollande on what is the best vehicle to stop terror? Our countries are and should remain staunch allies. We should learn and grow and even challenge each other. Still, our legislation should not appear to be decided upon solely by its interests to our allies and be devoid of our own benefits. That is a very dangerous card to play and picture to present.

Legislation that benefits the interest of America is paramount. Let me be unambiguous. Sanctions on Iran are critical and vital to America’s interests. Allow me to repeat that: Sanctions on Iran are critical and vital to America’s interests.

Iran achieving nuclear capability is an irrevocable catastrophe that needs to be stopped by all measures. A nuclear bomb in the hands of Iran would pose imminent threats to every western-value based country. This includes Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Brussels all within “arms” reach of Iran, not to mention Canada, Mexico and the United States.

If Iran were to become a nuclear capable country, it would undermine all of the non-proliferation treaties (NPT) and forward progress that has been earned through years of hard negotiations. These treaties were brokered to dismantle the threat of annihilation by other countries, hostile one to the next. Is that a place we want to return towards? Has the frostbite of the cold war thawed from our memories?

Inevitably, with growing tensions between Sunni and Shiite countries, Iran’s newest addition of a nuclear bomb would stoke an arms race in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, perhaps even oil-rich Qatar and Kuwait would all follow suit with bombs of their own. The Middle East is a dangerous and volatile neighborhood. In what is a very cold winter following an unsettling Arab spring, having rogue, militia based governments with the ability to put their fingers on the button is terrifying to the entire world.

Iran is one of 13 countries that comprise the council of OPEC – the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. This group of 13, almost all Arab countries, is responsible for more than 40% of the world’s oil. If one of those countries had nuclear capabilities, it could hold the world hostage on oil prices. Under $2.00 a gallon is a wonderful reprieve these days. However, imagine $7.50 a gallon just because Iran has the muscle to enforce a price gouging and no one country could stand up to it?

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 it wanted to capture more oil fields and simply, get richer. America AND Israel stopped that from happening: America by sending troops and letting Saddam Hussein know in word and deed the world will not sit by idly for his audacious thievery. Israel is to be applauded for secretly bombing the nuclear reactor at Ossirik, Iraq ten years earlier. I am not a fortuneteller nor adept at the ‘what if’ games, but I am pretty sure that were Iraq to have had a nuclear bomb the allied countries response in 1990 would have been dramatically more timid, if at all. Kuwait might have fallen to Iraq and gas prices would have soared while Saddam would have built more palaces with bars of gold. Thankfully, that was thwarted. Do we want to make the same mistake again?

Iran is the largest sponsor of world terror. Iran is a source of funds and weaponry to Hamas and Hezbollah, two terrorist organizations operating in Gaza and Lebanon, respectively.  Its fingerprints are linked to the AMIA bombing in Argentina where more than 65 people were murdered. Iran even offers compensation to surviving families whose children murdered Israeli civilians. Should we allow the neighborhood bully to upgrade its artillery? Logic tells me such a bully would only create exponentially more crime.

The current iteration of the Kirk-Menendez bill should be signed by all members of the US Senate in a demonstration of bipartisan support. The proposed bill is prospective. That means it only takes effect IF the negotiations with Iran fail. In essence, it holds the Iranians feet to the fire at the negotiation table. Should they stall or walk away, the US government need not go through the time consuming exercises of drafting and voting on sanctions all while Iran spins its centrifuges.

Iran sanctions must happen for all the reasons stated above, and many more. Making the sanctions appear that we are making them solely or even primarily for the sake of Israel is a dangerous optical illusion.

So, Mr. Prime Minister, just say ‘NO, thank you’ to the gracious invitation and come back (if you are victorious in the coming elections) to address congress and thank them for our special, unique and shared value based relationship.

About the Author
David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the past President of the NY Board of Rabbis, President of the NJ Board of Rabbis and a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute. Rabbi Kirshner was appointed to the New Jersey/Israel commission and is a member of the Chancellor's Rabbinic Cabinet at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
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