On March 3, Prime Minister of Israel and Likud party member Benjamin Netanyahu took to the Congressional floor to deliver a speech. He approached the United States to continue current discussions and conversations about the potential for Iran to obtain offensive nuclear capabilities.

The background to his speech is a bit complicated. Iran claims to be pursuing nuclear capabilities for peaceful purposes, such as the generation of electricity. Israel feels threatened by Iran and believes that Iranian nuclear power would actually be used to threaten and harm Israeli sovereignty. The United States, however, is currently working on a deal that would grant Iran nuclear capabilities, but include sanctions for ten years. President Obama supports this deal while many Republicans prefer tightened sanctions, or the absence of any nuclear power in Iran. Therefore, the Republican Party invited Netanyahu to Congress to garner support against this deal and Iran.

Aimed at public opinion and to gain support from undecided Democrats, Netanyahu’s speech began with thanks to the United States for years of support. He continued to paint a picture of the conflict, depicting the history of the ancient Jewish people and then turned the conversation to Iran’s hostile power, citing examples like the United States hostage crisis in Tehran of 1979.

Key take away points include problems with Iranian growth as a threat to Israel and international security. Netanyahu then turned his discussion to ISIS. In a departure from foreign policy norms, both the United States and Iran want to work against this militant group. Netanyahu, however, does not want the United States to join with Iran, even on this matter, and stated that “the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.”

With the growing threat of ISIS, Netanyahu emphasized that Iran is more dangerous, appeasement will fail, and a nuclear deal will not lead to stability in the region. “This deal won’t be a farewell to arms. It would be a farewell to arms control,” Netanyahu. Ultimately, he asked the United States not to continue with this deal and signified that Iran is not to be trusted.

Netanyahu Speech

One criticism of this speech is that, while rhetorically strong and engaging, Netanyahu failed to suggest any alternative political actions.

“For as many times as Netanyahu reiterated that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal,’ there was very little demarcation of what specifically constituted a ‘bad deal’ for him. Furthermore, many observers have remarked that Netanyahu has overestimated Iran’s capacity and resolve to develop nuclear weaponry in the past, as far back as 1992,” senior Nick Teale said.

What the speech mainly did was reemphasize Iran in the forefront of Congressional thought. “The overwhelming purpose of the speech was to warn members of Congress against accepting a nuclear deal with Iran. He repeated the ‘bad deal is better than no deal’ mantra, warning the Obama administration against making too many concessions,” Assistant Professor of Politics and International Studies Dr. Dina Badie said.

Teale believes that what is also important to look at other countries involved in the Middle East.

“More interesting than this is what Netanyahu doesn’t mention: the role of Russia and China. Both countries accept sanctions on Iran only begrudgingly, stating that they ‘will impose only those sanctions required by U.N. Security Council resolutions.’ Both countries are highly dependent on Iranian oil and have significant investments in Iran’s energy sector, with Russia, for instance, heavily involved in constructing the Bushehr nuclear reactor. Any rash decisions in breaking off negotiations with Iran could very well have strong negative repercussions for our relationship with those two countries. Of course, this is far more a concern to the United States than Israel,” Teale said.

More recently, as of March 9, 47 Republican Senators wrote a letter to Iran, stating that an incoming President in 2016 could overwrite any decisions reached. Netanyahu’s speech only added to the already confusing and controversial idea of Middle Eastern diplomacy.

“The greatest tragedy of the Middle East is the lack of diplomacy and political will. Every issue is polarizing and parties are unwilling to give in,” Dr. Badie said. “Take Israel-Palestine negotiations. There has been no movement on the issue since the Oslo Accords in 1993 – and even that led to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The crux of diplomacy is a willingness to made concessions. There can be no solution to any of the problems that plague the Middle East without concessions made by the parties involved. In the case of Iran, the leadership will never acquiesce to every single American and Israeli demand. Starting another war would result in a conflagration of immense proportion, making diplomacy the only viable solution. If this round of diplomacy doesn’t work, it is worth starting another. If this round produces a temporary deal, negotiations should continue. The same holds true for many other problems in the region, both internal and external.”

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