Iran, Obama, Boehner and Netanyahu
Iran has apparently produced an intercontinental ballistic missile whose range far exceeds the distance between Iran and Israel, and between Iran and Europe.
On Wednesday night, Channel 2 showed satellite imagery taken by Israel’s Eros-B satellite that was launched last April. The imagery showed new missile-related sites that Iran recently constructed just outside Tehran. One facility is a missile launch site, capable of sending a rocket into space or of firing an ICBM.
On the launch pad was a new 27-meter long missile, never seen before.
The missile and the launch pad indicate that Iran’s ballistic missile program, which is an integral part of its nuclear weapons program, is moving forward at full throttle. The expanded range of Iran’s ballistic missile program as indicated by the satellite imagery makes clear that its nuclear weapons program is not merely a threat to Israel, or to Israel and Europe. It is a direct threat to the United States as well.
Also on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited to address a joint session of Congress by House Speaker John Boehner.
Boehner has asked Netanyahu to address US lawmakers on February 11 regarding Iran’s nuclear program and the threat to international security posed by radical Islam.
Opposition leaders were quick to accuse Boehner and the Republican Party of interfering in Israel’s upcoming election by providing Netanyahu with such a prestigious stage just five weeks before Israelis go to the polls.
Labor MK Nachman Shai told The Jerusalem Post that for the sake of fairness, Boehner should extend the same invitation to opposition leader Isaac Herzog.
But in protesting as they have, opposition members have missed the point. Boehner didn’t invite Netanyahu because he cares about Israel’s election. He invited Netanyahu because he cares about US national security. He believes that by having Netanyahu speak on the issues of Iran’s nuclear program and radical Islam, he will advance America’s national security.
Boehner’s chief concern, and that of the majority of his colleagues from the Democratic and Republican parties alike, is that President Barack Obama’s policy in regard to Iran’s nuclear weapons program imperils the US. Just as the invitation to Netanyahu was a bipartisan invitation, so concerns about Obama’s policy toward Iran’s nuclear program are bipartisan concerns.
Over the past week in particular, Obama has adopted a position on Iran that puts him far beyond the mainstream of US politics. This radical position has placed the president on a collision course with Congress best expressed on Wednesday by Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez. During a hearing at the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee where Menendez serves as ranking Democratic member, he said, “The more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran.”
Menendez was referring to threats that Obama has made three times over the past week, most prominently at his State of the Union address on Tuesday, to veto any sanctions legislation against Iran brought to his desk for signature.
He has cast proponents of sanctions – and Menendez is the co-sponsor of a pending sanctions bill – as enemies of a diplomatic strategy of dealing with Iran, and by implication, as warmongers.
Indeed, in remarks to the Democratic members of the Senate last week, Obama impugned the motivations of lawmakers who support further sanctions legislation. He indirectly alleged that they were being forced to take their positions due to pressure from their donors and others.
The problem for American lawmakers is that the diplomatic course that Obama has chosen makes it impossible for the US to use the tools of diplomacy to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. That course of diplomatic action is anchored in the Joint Plan of Action that the US and its partners Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia (the P5+1) signed with Tehran in November 2013.
The JPOA placed no limitation on Iran’s ballistic missile program. The main areas the JPOA covers are Iran’s uranium enrichment and plutonium reactor activities. Under the agreement, or the aspects of it that Obama has made public, Iran is supposed to limit its enrichment of uranium to 3.5-percent purity. And it is not supposed to take action to expand its heavy water reactor at Arak, which could be used to develop weapons grade plutonium. THE JPOA is also supposed to force Iran to share all nuclear activities undertaken in the past by its military personnel.
During his State of the Union address, Obama claimed that since the agreement was signed, Iran has “halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material.”
Yet as Omri Ceren of the Israel Project noted this week, since the JPOA was signed, Iran has expanded its uranium and plutonium work. And as the Eros-B satellite imagery demonstrated, Iran is poised to launch an ICBM.
When it signed the JPOA, Obama administration officials dismissed concerns that by permitting Iran to enrich uranium to 3.5% – in breach of binding UN Security Council Resolution 1929 from 2010 – the US was enabling Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Enrichment to 3.5%, they said, is a far cry from the 90% enrichment level needed for uranium to be bomb grade.
But it works out that the distance isn’t all that great. Sixty percent of the work required to enrich uranium to bomb grade levels of purity is done by enriching it to 3.5%. Since it signed the JPOA, Iran has enriched sufficient quantities of uranium to produce two nuclear bombs.
As for plutonium development work, as Ceren pointed out, the White House’s fact sheet on the JPOA said that Iran committed itself “to halt progress on its plutonium track.”
Last October, Foreign Policy magazine reported that Iran was violating that commitment by seeking to procure parts for its heavy water plutonium reactor at Arak. And yet, astoundingly, rather than acknowledge the simple fact that Iran was violating its commitment, the State Department excused Iran’s behavior and insisted that it was not in clear violation of its commitment.
More distressingly, since the JPOA was signed, Iran has repeatedly refused to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to access Iran’s nuclear installations or to inform the IAEA about the nuclear activities that its military have carried out in the past. As a consequence, the US and its partners still do not know what nuclear installations Iran has or what nuclear development work it has undertaken.
This means that if a nuclear agreement is signed between Iran and the P5+1, that agreement’s verification protocols will in all likelihood not apply to all aspects of Iran’s nuclear program. And if it does not apply to all aspects of Iran’s nuclear activities, it cannot prevent Iran from continuing the activities it doesn’t know about.
As David Albright, a former IAEA inspector, explained in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last May, “To be credible, a final agreement must ensure that any effort by Tehran to construct a bomb would be sufficiently time-consuming and detectable that the international community could act decisively to prevent Iran from succeeding. It is critical to know whether the Islamic Republic had a nuclear weapons program in the past, how far the work on warheads advanced and whether it continues. Without clear answers to these questions, outsiders will be unable to determine how fast the Iranian regime could construct either a crude nuclear-test device or a deliverable weapon if it chose to renege on an agreement.”
Concern about the loopholes in the JPOA led congressional leaders from both parties to begin work to pass additional sanctions against Iran immediately after the JPOA was concluded. To withstand congressional pressure, the Obama administration alternately attacked the patriotism of its critics, who it claimed were trying to push the US into and unnecessary war against Iran, and assured them that all of their concerns would be addressed in a final agreement.
Unfortunately, since signing the JPOA, the administration has adopted positions that ensure that none of Congress’s concerns will be addressed.
Whereas in early 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that “the president has made it definitive” that Iran needs to answer all “questions surrounding Iran’s nuclear program,” last November it was reported that the US and its partners had walked back this requirement.
Iran will not be required to give full accounting of its past nuclear work, and so the US and its partners intend to sign a deal that will be unable to verify that Iran does not build nuclear weapons.
As the administration has ignored its previous pledges to Congress to ensure that a deal with Iran will make it possible to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons, it has also acted to ensure that Iran will pay no price for negotiating in bad faith. The sanctions bill that Obama threatens to veto would only go into effect if Iran fails to sign an agreement.
As long as negotiations progress, no sanctions would be enforced.
OBAMA’S MESSAGE then is clear. Not only will the diplomatic policy he has adopted not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons (and its ability to attack the US with nuclear warheads attached to an ICBM), but in the event that Iran fails to agree to even cosmetic limitations on its nuclear progress, it will suffer no consequences for its recalcitrance.
And this brings us back to Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu.
With Obama’s diplomatic policy toward Iran enabling rather than preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power, members of the House and Senate are seeking a credible, unwavering voice that offers an alternative path. For the past 20 years, Netanyahu has been the global leader most outspoken about the need to take all necessary measures to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, not only for Israel’s benefit, but to protect the entire free world. From the perspective of the congressional leadership, then, inviting Netanyahu to speak was a logical move.
In the Israeli context, however, it was an astounding development. For the past generation, the Israeli Left has insisted Israel’s role on the world stage is that of a follower.
As a small, isolated nation, Israel has no choice, they say, other than to follow the lead of the West, and particularly of the White House, on all issues, even when the US president is wrong. All resistance to White House policies is dangerous and irresponsible, leaders like Herzog and Tzipi Livni continuously warn.
Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu exposes the Left’s dogma as dangerous nonsense.
The role of an Israeli leader is to adopt the policies that protect Israel, even when they are unpopular at the White House. Far from being ostracized for those policies, such an Israeli leader will be supported, respected, and relied upon by those who share with him a concern for what truly matters.