Apprehensive over the looming threat of a nuclear Iran, Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, spoke on March 3 to the United States Congress, furthering tension between Israel and the United States.
In the weeks leading up to the speech, tension heightened between the Obama administration and Netanyahu regarding the restriction of Iran’s nuclear program, with some United States officials calling Netanyahu’s speech political and potentially harmful to the nuclear deal that could be established between the P5+1, whose members include the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, and Germany, and Iran.
According to the Washington Post, the U.S. wants a one-year time slot before Iran can build a weapon if they decide to forgo the deal. Methods have been created to check that Iran adheres to the deal. Iran wants sanctions removed quickly; the U.S. and Europe want them removed slowly.
In addition, The Wall Street Journal reported on February 23 that the United States, with the P5+1, is negotiating a 10-year period where Iran cannot develop enough nuclear energy to build a bomb, a term which Iran agrees to.
Originally, the U.S. aimed to have a 20 year period. Congress and Israel are not supportive of the 10 year timeline, according to the article.
While Obama seeks to find a diplomatic solution through a nuclear deal with Iran, Netanyahu believes the negotiations overlook Iran’s reputation as a terrorist sponsor and the threat to wipe Israel “off the map” by former President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
A day before his speech, Netanyahu asserted the rationale behind his decision to speak before Congress.
“I have a moral obligation to speak up in the face of these dangers while there is still time to avert them,” Netanyahu said, according to The New York Times.
In the beginning of his speech, Netanyahu was gracious towards the United States and, in doing so, intentionally mitigated the political aspect of his speech.
“I want to thank you, Democrats and Republicans, for your common support for Israel, year after year, decade after decade. I know that no matter on which side of the aisle you sit, you stand with Israel,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu then spoke of the danger Iran poses not only to Israel, but also to America and Europe.
“Iran’s regime is not merely a Jewish problem, any more than the Nazi regime was merely a Jewish problem… So, too, Iran’s regime poses a grave threat, not only to Israel, but also the peace of the entire world,” Netanyahu said according to BBC News.
Netanyahu believes, as referenced in his speech, that the “people of Iran are very talented people,” but the government formed in 1979 following the Iranian Revolution does not represent the greatness of Iranian culture and society.
“They [Iranians] were hijacked by religious zealots—religious zealots who imposed on them immediately a dark and brutal dictatorship,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu then attacked Iran’s for being a leading state sponsors of terrorism while also appealing to America’s soft spot for terrorism.
“Iran took dozens of Americans hostage in Tehran, murdered hundreds of American soldiers, Marines, in Beirut, and was responsible for killing and maiming thousands of American service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Netanyahu said, according to a transcript from The Washington Post.
In opposition to President Obama, Netanyahu urged Congress to reject the nuclear deal being negotiated, stating that the current negotiations would lead to a “bad deal” and that “we’re [the United States and Israel are] better off without it.”
“We must all stand together to stop Iran’s march of conquest, subjugation and terror,” Netanyahu said.
After the speech, Obama stated that there was “nothing new” in the Prime Minister’s speech and that Netanyahu “didn’t offer any viable alternatives [to the Iran deal],” according to a transcript from The Washington Post.
The negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran are still in progress, but were recently impacted when 47 Republican Senators wrote a letter to Iran stating that the negotiations could be altered “with the stroke of a pen,” after the President departs his office.
In response to the politically motivated note, Vice President Joe Biden, expressed his disgust at the Senators’ hostility towards the President and the potential deal.
“The letter sent on March 9th by forty-seven Republican Senators to the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressly designed to undercut a sitting President in the midst of sensitive international negotiations, is beneath the dignity of an institution I revere,” Biden said, according to a transcript of his speech on The Wall Street Journal.
The senators maintain they were stating the reality of United States law and that they hope the letter would lead Iran to be more reasonable during negotiations.
March 31 is the deadline for the P5+1 to reach a deal with Iran.