It’s been a while since the last time I posted. A lot has happened during that time, both nationally and personally. With Netanyahu’s speech to Congress today and national elections about to take place in Israel, I felt I should get back to sharing my thoughts about different matters.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered his much-anticipated speech to Congress earlier today. His invitation to address a joint session of Congress had been a major source of discontent with many in Washington, as allegedly being a breach of proper protocol. It was not attended by many Democratic congressmen, including the Vice-President, Joe Biden.
But, Netanyahu’s invitation to come to the U.S. and address the Congress is not and never was about protocol. Nor was it even about the considerable personality differences between Netanyahu and Obama. Nor is it about trying to gain points with the Israeli public two short weeks before national elections here. These so-called “issues”, as well as others, are all relatively minor in light of the real issue, namely, the Iranian threat and how this threat is perceived by the Obama administration on the one hand and by Israel on other hand. The artificial fallout that followed the invitation to Netanyahu by a Republican- dominated Congress resulted from the way that the White House reacted to the invitation and the intended speech. President Obama wants to leave a legacy of having accomplished something positive and lasting during his tenure in office. He is pushing to make a deal with Iran and has ignored every red line that was set by the U.S. and then violated by Iran. He did not want Netanyahu to make a speech that would undermine the present negotiations with Iran, which are close to being finalized. His out-and-out opposition to Netanyahu’s invitation and speech was not fitting for the leader of the free world and insulting to America’s best friend and strongest ally in the Middle East.
The invitation to Netanyahu and his acceptance of it had its supporters and opponents. It was challenged from a multitude of perspectives and defended from other perspectives. Many accused him of using this speech for political gain, but ignored the fact that he was risking his political future by what might result from his speech. He was accused of destroying the good relationship that Israel has with the United States. Yet, it is that very relationship which allowed him the opportunity to try to warn Israel’s best friend about a potential disaster that could be avoided. The U.S. prides itself on its First Amendment freedoms, which include the right to express oneself, even if others disagree with it. This freedom was put to the test in the case of Netanyahu’s being invited to speak to the joint session of Congress.
In a certain sense, Netanyahu felt compelled to accept the invitation, which was known to the White House, but which chose not to respond until after the invitation was accepted. The Prime Minister was not out to convince Congressmen and Senators. They are already behind Israel. The speech was intended to inform and affect the American public, who needed to be apprised of the existential threat to Israel that is posed by a nuclear Iran. I know God’s promises to Israel, to keep her and protect her and to insure her existence, as long as the stars remain in the sky. I fully believe them and have referred to passages of Scripture in this regard many times. Yet, viewed from a non-Biblical perspective, a non-Biblical person would understand that Iran’s repeated threats to annihilate Israel is not mere rhetoric, but an existential threat, one which could easily play out in a short period of time, if Iran were allowed to become nuclear.
The Prime Minister was well received by the members of Congress. They applauded him often and gave him standing ovations and, at a certain point, it seemed that they were doing more standing than sitting. And his reception was well-deserved. Netanyahu’s speech was a masterpiece in many ways. He began by trying to “put out the fires” that flared up over his being invited to address the Congress. He extolled the contributions of the Obama administration towards Israel and reversed Mark Antony’s famous statement, by saying, in essence, that he had come to praise Caesar, not to bury him.
Contrary to the rumours that were flying around in the Obama administration, Netanyahu did not reveal classified information, but used his own understanding of information that was already revealed. He even indicated that the information that he was sharing about the negotiations was nothing special and could all be “Googled”. Yet, comments from the State Department used derogatory terms, one of which was that if Netanyahu revealed “confidential information”, it would be a “betrayal” of trust. Honestly, is there anything about the potential content of an agreement with Iran that should remain “confidential”? Doesn’t the public, the American public and the rest of the world, have a right to know what is being put on the table for discussion and agreement?
The Prime Minister noted the comparison between Haman’s attempt to eliminate the Jewish people in the time of Queen Esther and Iran’s present regime, that seeks to eliminate the Jewish state. The first did not succeed and the second will not happen. I will not dwell on his mistakenly referring to Haman as a Persian (he was an Agagite) or on his comment that Israel can defend herself. I still cringe when our leaders leave the Keeper of Israel out of the picture.
He then moved on to point out a reality – the proposed deal with Iran is a bad deal, certainly from Israel’s point of view. But, it was important to mention that it would also be a bad deal for the U.S. and for the rest of the world. If Netanyahu had indicated that the failure to cut a deal with Iran would most likely result in war, such an outcome would not be very palatable to the American public, which is tired of being embroiled in fighting in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and certainly would not want to send additional troops to the hotbed of the Middle East. They would probably be willing to go along with the idea of accepting a bad deal instead of no deal. But, the Prime Minister gave them another option, a positive one, pointing out that the alternative to a bad deal is not necessarily war, but a better deal.
This better deal has various aspects to it: Iran needs to stop its aggression against its neighbors in the M.E. It needs to stop supporting terrorism around the world and it needs to stop threatening to annihilate Israel as a state. None of these issues were being dealt with by the P5+1 representatives in their negotiations with Iran. He encouraged his listeners not to be intimidated by Iran’s threat to walk away from the negotiating table. He said to call its bluff. It will later come back and talk again. Iran needs the deal more than the U.S.
He noted that with the changes taking place in the Middle East, there was a vacuum that was being created and that ISIS is stepping in to fill that vacuum. He again stated that to defeat ISIS and let Iran have nuclear weapons would be to win the battle, but lose the war. He referred to both ISIS and Iran as competing for the crown of ruling over militant Islam, both seeking to establish an Islamic caliphate, first in the Middle East and then over the rest of the world. He showed how while the U.S. and Iran were talking with each other, Iran was killing Americans in different countries, including its Marines, who fight for the U.S. “from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli”. To drive the point home, he added: “So when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy … is your enemy.” Everyone listening to the speech needed to understand that Iran does not behave as a “normal” country and, therefore, the normal rules of negotiation should not apply to it until it does act like a normal country and shows that it is serious about becoming part of the community of nations, rather than being their leader. That is the reality in the Middle East. Israel recognizes it and our neighbors understand it as well. The “West”, on the other hand, does not. So, the approach of the “West” is in line with their misunderstanding of the mentality of this region and, particularly, of the regional goals of Iran to establish its hegemony.
These differences in understanding result in fundamental differences in approach about how to negotiate with Iran and what goals should be achieved. The way the present deal is structured, not a single nuclear facility in Iran would be demolished. Moreover, Iran plays “hide and cheat” with international nuclear inspectors. If it has nothing to hide, then it should be totally transparent regarding its nuclear facilities, which it is not. Still, America wants to prevent Iran from having a bomb, by getting Iran to promise that it won’t become nuclear for a season. Israel wants to prevent Iran from having the capability to produce a nuclear bomb. This is an essential difference of perspective.
Some will undoubtedly say that Netanyahu’s acceptance of the invitation and his addressing the joint session of Congress damaged the relations between the U.S. and Israel. Certainly, those who are challenging him in the upcoming elections this month are making that claim. There are others who will surely say that his speech was hard towards the Obama administration, presenting it as naive. Well, if the shoe fits….!
Will the speech change the way negotiations with Iran are conducted? Will any of the Democratic Senators change his/her opinion regarding how to deal with Iran? Time will tell. But, time is the one thing that is not on our side.
Bless, be blessed and be a blessing,