Sherwin Pomerantz

Netanyahu got it more than right

The Prime Minister’s address to a joint session of the Congress of the United States on Tuesday was right on the money.  He carefully skirted the delicate issues that tend to irritate people when discussing the subject at hand, he gave well deserved kudos to the support that the United States and President Obama do provide to Israel while clearly stating that as Prime Minister of the country most at risk if the P5+1 make a bad deal, he has the right and the obligation to express his concern about our future here in Israel.

While the President, in an interview after the speech, disparaged the Prime Minister by opining that Netanyahu said nothing new, that simply was not the case.  In a change of tactics, Netanyahu did not speak about denuclearizing Iran (which everyone agrees is a non-starter) but rather laid out the importance of making sure Iran does not have the capability to build a nuclear weapon.  That distinction represents a change in Netanyahu’s thinking and an acknowledgement of reality.

More importantly Netanyahu provided an important new focus to the discussion about what kind of deal must be struck with Iran to ensure success.  That new focus is the error in signing any agreement that has a pre-determined end date.  The present negotiations talk about an agreement that will expire in ten years.  In other words, if Iran’s leadership waits out the ten year period covered by the agreement they will then be able to do absolutely anything they want after that date, including building nuclear bombs.

But an end date is classic Obama strategy.  Throughout this administration every proposed military or strategic action carried with it an end date.  Witness the President’s decision to remove all combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of the summer of 2012.   What was the need to announce that publicly a year in advance in June 2011?  To tell the Taliban that if they waited one more year they would then have free reign to do whatever they wanted without foreign troop interference? Does that make sense?

Netanyahu in his address to Congress hit the reset button on the dialogue with the Iranians,   and urged those in discussion with Iran to eliminate the expiration date aspect of the agreement and only reward Iran as they met critical milestones.  That includes not relieving the sanctions until Iran begins meeting the demands of the agreement, once it is signed.  Of course, the Iranians want all sanctions lifted as soon as deal is signed.  Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Monday, “Our negotiating partners, particularly the Western countries and particularly the United States, must once and for all come to the understanding that sanctions and agreement don’t go together.  If they want an agreement, sanctions must go. We believe all sanctions must be lifted.”

While the leftist press here this morning was quite critical of the Prime Minister’s speech, leading Arab opinion makers expressed strong support for his stance on the Iranian threat.

In an op-ed for the Saudi Arabian daily Al-Jazirah on Monday, columnist Dr. Ahmad Al-Faraj asserted that Netanyahu is justified in his campaign against the proposed nuclear deal with Iran.  Al-Faraj said Netanyahu’s effort to prevent the signing of the agreement is in the interests of the Gulf States, and that the prime minister “was right to insist on addressing Congress about the nuclear deal.”

“I am very glad of Netanyahu’s firm stance and [his decision] to speak against the nuclear agreement at the American Congress despite the Obama administration’s anger and fury,” Al-Faraj wrote. “I believe that Netanyahu’s conduct will serve our interests, the people of the Gulf, much more than the foolish behavior of one of the worst American presidents.”

The powerful editor-in-chief of Al Arabiya English, Faisal J. Abbas, published a column on Tuesday in which he asked Obama to take notes from Netanyahu on the extent of the Iranian threat. In the piece, titled “President Obama, Listen to Netanyahu on Iran,” Abbas says, “one must admit, Bibi did get it right, at least when it came to dealing with Iran.”

Abbas notes that Netanyahu “hit the nail right on the head” when he said at a recent event in Tel Aviv that “Middle Eastern countries are collapsing and that ‘terror organizations, mostly backed by Iran, are filling in the vacuum.’” In his remarks, Netanyahu “managed to accurately summarize a clear and present danger, not just to Israel (which obviously is his concern), but to other US allies in the region,” Abbas writes.

“What is absurd, however,” Abbas continues, “is that despite this being perhaps the only thing that brings together Arabs and Israelis (as it threatens them all), the only stakeholder that seems not to realize the danger of the situation is President Obama, who is now infamous for being the latest pen-pal of the Supreme Leader of the World’s biggest terrorist regime: Ayotallah Ali Khamenei.”

Abbas slams Obama’s “controversial take on managing global conflicts that raises serious questions.”  The “real Iranian threat” says Abbas, is not just the country’s nuclear ambitions, “but its expansionist approach and state-sponsored terrorism activities which are still ongoing.”

In the U.S., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Tuesday she was close to tears during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress, and implied that Netanyahu vastly underestimated the ability of the Obama administration to negotiate an agreement that keeps nuclear weapons away from Iran.

“I was near tears throughout the Prime Minister’s speech – saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the P5+1 nations, and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation,” she said.

What the House Minority Leader should take away from all of this is not that Israel and the moderate Arab World underestimate the ability of the Obama administration to negotiate an agreement that keeps nuclear weapon away from Iran.  Rather those of us living in this region derive our intelligence from a much more realistic understanding of the realities of the enemy we are facing coupled with the knowledge that we will be the first to pay for a mistaken agreement.

Quin Hillyer, a newspaper columnist and contributing editor for the National Review wrote there earlier this week:  “Benjamin Netanyahu of course speaks first for Israel, but he speaks also for you and for me, for decency and humaneness, and for vigilance and strength against truly evil adversaries. Congress, by inviting him, is wise. Obama, by opposing him, is horribly wrong. And the civilized world, if it ignores him, will be well-nigh suicidal.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu went to Washington as the spokesperson for the citizens of Israel to call attention to the risks in making a bad deal with Iran.  He did his job and he did it well.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 32 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, regional entities and Invest Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Former Chairperson of the Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a Board Member of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.