Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday delivered a sharp rebuke to President Barack Obama by telling Congress that an agreement being negotiated under Obama’s direction is a “bad deal” that won’t prevent a nuclear Iran, and would instead ensure Iran can develop a bomb.
“That’s why this deal is so bad,” he said. “It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb, it paves Iran’s path to the bomb.”
Netanyahu’s roughly 40-minute address was delivered without the approval of the Obama administration, which warned that the U.S. shouldn’t be seen as supporting a national leader so close to his country’s election. But by the end, it seemed clear that the Obama administration might now have to be much more worried about the contents of the speech itself, which undercut much of the work U.S. officials have done over the last year to secure some kind of agreement with Iran.
The speech, marked by several standing ovations, also seems to have infused Republicans and even many Democrats with a tough but clear foreign policy direction on Iran that has been lacking under the Obama administration.
Netanyahu dismantled the nuclear negotiations first by saying Iran has not shown any goodwill toward Israel or other nations, and instead continues to support terrorist acts around the world. He said Iran’s brutal actions undercut its promise to negotiate, and belie the idea that Iran can somehow join the community of nations under its current leadership, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“So at a time when many hope that Iran will join the community of nations, Iran is busy gobbling up the nations,” he said. “We must all stand together to stop Iran’s march of conquest, subjugation and terror.”
He also dismissed the idea that Iran can be trusted because it’s fighting the Islamic State.
“Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam,” he said. “In this deadly game of thrones, there is no place for America or for Israel, no peace for Christians, Jews or Muslims who don’t share the Islamists’ medieval creed. No rights for women, no freedom for anyone.”
“So when it comes to ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy,” he said.
Turning to the agreement, Netanyahu said publicly known details about it show two major flaws. The first is that it would leave Iran with a functioning nuclear apparatus that would give Iran a short “breakout” time to get to a nuclear weapon whenever it wants.
“Because Iran’s nuclear program would be left largely intact, Iran’s breakout time would be very short, about a year by U.S. assessments, even shorter by Israel’s,” he said. He also dismissed the agreement’s idea of using inspectors to make sure Iran is complying with the agreement, and said those inspectors would not be able to stop any violations they might find.
The second major flaw, which many Republicans have noted in Congress, is that it would appear to expire after a decade, leaving Iran free to pursue weapons after 10 years.
“A decade may seem like a long time in a political life, but it’s a blink of an eye in the life of a nation,” he said. “It’s a blink of an eye in the life of our children.”
“We all have a responsibility to consider what will happen when Iran’s nuclear capabilities are virtually unrestricted and all the sanctions will have been lifted,” he added.
Netanyahu said Secretary of State John Kerry himself has agreed that Iran could legitimately produce nuclear material after the deal expires, and said countries must not count on Iran changing because of the huge concessions the U.S. is preparing to make.
Instead, he said giving Iran this deal and easing economic sanctions would let Iran continue to terrorize the world, enjoy a healthier economy, and would even force others in the Middle East to pursue their own weapons programs.
“This deal not a farewell to arms, but farewell to arms control,” he said.
Netanyahu said a deal should instead be based on new commitments from Iran to stop its aggressive actions against its neighbors, stop supporting terrorism around the world, and stop its threats to destroy Israel.
“If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country,” he said.
He noted that the Obama administration has said repeatedly that no deal is better than a bad deal, and concluded by saying that as it stands now, the emerging agreement is bad and should be rejected.
“Well, this is a bad deal, this is a very bad deal and we’re better off without it,” he said. And while some have said war is the only alternative to an agreement, Netanyahu dismissed that and said, “The alternative to a bad deal is a much better deal.”
As he did Monday, Netanyahu stressed that he does not want his appearance at Congress to be seen as political, and he went out of his way to thank both Republicans and Democrats for their support of Israel. He began and ended his speech by thanking members of both parties for their support of his country
“I can promise you one more thing,” he said. “Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.”
“But I know that Israel does not stand alone,” he added.” I know that America stands with Israel. I know that you stand with Israel.”