WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) – “This is a bad deal, it’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared in front of much of the United States Congress Tuesday.
While Israel’s leader spoke passionately against a deal in the U.S., Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif worked to reach a deal in Switzerland with less than a month to go before a late-March deadline.
While Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke, Walter Reich, Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Professor of International Affairs at The George Washington University, watched closely as did much of the world. He spoke to us about six things to take away from the speech.
- The “Never again” argument
“We’re not going to allow ourselves to be slaughtered,” Reich said relaying Netanyahu’s position. Netanyahu said for the first time in many generations, Israel can stand up and defend itself. “This speech was part of that effort to defend his country and his people,” Reich said.
Prime Minister Netanyahu said the deal with Iran that’s currently on the table is a “potential nuclear nightmare.” He expressed fear the deal will either lead to Iran getting the nuclear bomb now, by Iran lying and going behind inspectors’ backs, or by Iran waiting 10 years, when the terms of the deal would expire. Netanyahu said the only way to make a deal with Iran is to force it to change behavior before restrictions are lifted.
- Holocaust comparison
“I can only urge the leaders of the world not to repeat the mistakes of the past,” Prime Minister Netanyahu said. “I can promise you this. The days when the Jewish people remain passive in the face of genocidal enemies. Those days are over,” he went on to say.
During the speech, Netanyahu introduced Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Weisel in the audience. “Elie Weisel in a way is a conscience of America,” Reich said. “He’s the great voice of memory related to the Holocaust. It’s obviously not an accident that he was there…Elie Weisel being shown in the audience is a reminder that it happened before and it can happen again.”
- ISIS vs Iran
“When it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy,” Netanyahu said. Reich said the quote comes at a time when ISIS is dramatically capturing the world’s attention by clearly demonstrating its brutality. The demonstrations are so dramatic “it would incline people to focus on it rather than anything else,” Reich said. Netanyahu wanted the world’s attention back on Iran.
- Thanking President Obama
Reich said this speech by Netanyahu was inconvenient for the Obama administration politically since Netanyahu argued against a deal being worked on by Secretary of State Kerry. By spending time in his speech thanking the president and his administration, Netanyahu wanted to make it clear that he was not attacking the administration. However, Reich said, it seemed Netanyahu was trying to say that although the administration has been helpful, it doesn’t mean he should remain silent in the face of looming danger for his country.
- The price of oil
Prime Minister Netanyahu referenced the price of oil during this speech. He said Iran is vulnerable now because of the low price of oil. Reich agreed. Iran is a very large oil producer. “Economic sanctions are a mechanism that is even more effective when Iran is so vulnerable,” said Reich.
- Will it make a difference?
“I don’t think the administration will change its negotiating position with Iran (because of this speech),” Reich told us. “It will cut the deal it believes it can cut. Will it change the minds of people in that chamber possibly supporting the administration? I don’t know. After the speech is over, party politics may return,” Reich said.
Netanyahu did not offer an alternative to the deal he argued against. He did, however, say Iran should stop three things before restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program are lifted.
- Stop aggression against neighbors in the Middle East
- Stop supporting terrorism around the world
- Stop threatening to annihilate Israel
“If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country,” said Netanyahu.
The U.S., Iran and other world powers are racing to meet the end-of-March target to reach the outline of deal, with a July deadline for a final agreement.
(The Associated Press contributed to this story)