For several months now, the relationship between Iran and the Western world has been tense as discussions about the Iranian nuclear program have been underway. Iran has a large number of operational uranium centrifuges, and is building a heavy-water nuclear plant to develop plutonium. Western countries, like the United States, are very wary of Iran being able to develop nuclear weapons. The P5+1 UN countries (US, China, Russia, United Kingdom, France, and Germany) have been engaged with talks with Iran about deescalating the growth of the nuclear program except for peaceful energy pursuits. According to President Obama, these talks are showing real progress towards a resolution between Iran and the UN. Iran hopes that the sanctions placed on them by the UN will be lifted as a result of these talks.
However, complications always present themselves in these situations. US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner has controversially invited Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, to speak before a joint session of Congress. Netanyahu, who is staunchly against Iran and its nuclear program, will talk heavily about Iran to Congress. An important question rises: What sort of tension will this place on the already tentative agreements with Iran?
This clip from the Daily Show reveals some of the issues with this situation (taken with a grain of salt):
Prime Minister Netanyahu is visiting the US just two weeks before the Israeli national elections, which makes some people in Israel and the US suspicious of alternative motives. Showing such a close connection to the US is definitely an important campaign tactic, and has become a huge talking point of the Prime Minister’s campaign. Polls in Israel say many are getting tired of Netanyahu, who has served three terms as Prime Minister now. His position on national security, and therefore this speech to Congress, may make the difference between victory and defeat.
Netanyahu very strongly affirms that the government of Iran is intent on destroying Israel, and believes its nuclear program is built to do just that. He is afraid that the deals made by the P5+1 with Iran will still leave Iran on the borderline of being able to make enough nuclear missiles to attack Israel. Netanyahu says, “I must [fulfill] my obligation to speak up on a matter that affects the very survival of my country.”
The White House is pretty upset with Netanyahu, because they were not consulted about this move and Netanyahu didn’t ask President Obama first. Obama has declined to meet with the Prime Minister, saying that it is US policy not to meet with heads of state so close to an election. Many democrats in congress are choosing not to attend this address in support of the President, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has said that there was absolutely no bipartisan agreement in the extension of this offer.
Many in Israel are also concerned about Netanyahu’s rash decision to speak to Congress. The US is Israel’s most important ally, and losing both bipartisan and White House support would be a major issue. Still, Netanyahu is firm that he must speak on behalf of his country.
The current deal with Iran involves limiting the number of operational centrifuges down to a few thousand; Netanyahu says there should be zero. He does not trust Iran, and believes that as soon as the UN ends discussions with Iran, it will immediately reverse course and move to attack Israel.
It’s difficult to look at this situation and figure out what are the real issues, and what are the politics at play. For instance, why did Speaker John Boehner make this unprecedented move? It could be out of a desire to support Israel, or it could be viewed as more bickering between political parties and a chance to undermine the authority of President Obama. Alternatively, why did Netanyahu accept this offer, especially without consulting the President? Is he truly coming to defend his country, or is his upcoming election the focus of his intentions?
It seems to be a pretty murky situation, and it seems that American political issues could really impact the state of Iran and the tension in the Middle East. Israel, which has recently been garnering a negative view in the US and especially Europe, needs American support. Angering the White House might have serious repercussions for the country in the near future.
It will be interesting to see how these next few weeks play out in the politics between the Obama administration, Congress republicans, and Israel. This could be a make-or-break moment for Netanyahu’s campaign, and have even more serious impacts for the country depending on Iran’s response to this situation.