HTS 2041: The Modern Middle East

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Tension in the UN-Iran arms agreements

Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama. Reuters

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):

The Daily Show–Hebrew International

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.

-Jack Jenkins

Other sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/10/benjamin-netanyahu-congress-speech_n_6655620.html

http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/24/world/meast/iran-nuclear-talks/

http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/west-of-eden/.premium-1.638601

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21 Comments

  1. wcarter31 says:

    Though potentially (but unlikely) losing the bipartisan and White House support would be a harsh blow to Israel, I feel as though Netanyahu’s primary concern should be the security of his nation. Speaking up and standing firm on the issues in Iran seems to put him in a stronger position as a ruler rather than a coward, and in a tense situation, this may be what makes the difference between peace and war.

  2. emartin36 says:

    I completely understand the concern from Israel regarding Iran’s nuclear program, but I think that it is important for the US to maintain as neutral a position as possible. It is obvious right now that the US sides more heavily with Israel in this tense relationship, and inviting Netanyahu to speak before congress will make this all the more obvious.

  3. jjacob7 says:

    Like the previous commenters, I understand Netanyahu’s concern for the safety of Israel, especially as the Likud party continues to thrive off of its strong focus on national security. Though the issue of Iran is vaguely related to Israel considering what Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad have said about Israel’s right to exist in the past and Iran’s prior disregard for international nuclear norms, the P5+1 must take into account many other facets when approaching today’s Iran under President Rouhani. For instance, Iran has a right to generate civilian nuclear power under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The job of the P5+1 should be to get Iran to agree to conditions that would allow IAEA inspectors to ensure that Iran is not enriching uranium above a certain grade, because non-proliferation of nuclear weapons is another obligation of the NPT. Israel should be in the conversation, but it should not be the deciding factor in the final terms of the agreement.

  4. kimpgt says:

    It is good that there is a policy where the US declines meetings with nations so close to their elections. Israel is an ally and should be supported, but there is a limit. Israel may have felt like Iran was getting what they wanted in terms in of the nuclear program and decided to involve the US to change the UN decision. Also, Iran should be able to have a nuclear program for energy and other pursuits because it is a part of modernization and the advancement of science; however, caution must be taken when the nation may use those resources for war and terrorism. These are difficult decisions that the UN has to make, and hopefully, everyone has a chance to defend their side.

  5. cryan3232 says:

    I believe that it is a bit of an over reaction to suggest that Israel would lose the bipartisan and White House support by speaking in front of congress. While I understand that it is not what Obama wanted, the US is still Israel’s ally and I think that attempting to address this issues in this form could prove beneficial. Iran’s nuclear threat poses a much more immediate affect to the countries in close proximity and they should be doing everything to address this in any format possible, including speaking in front of congress.

  6. coreilly says:

    If I lived in a country next to Iran, I’d be nervous about their nuclear program too. So I can see where Israel is coming from. If the UN lifts its sanctions, it raises the question of whether Iran will honor its word and not increase funding for its nuclear program or if it will in fact just ramp up nuclear production as soon as the sanctions are lifted. I’m sure the Israeli Prime Minister may have some political motive in the back of his mind. Maybe he thinks if he can get the US involved that his country would owe him a debt of gratitude. I think it’s best the US stays neutral on this for a little longer, see how things play out before getting too involved with Iran. Tensions with Iran are tight and the last thing we need is a conflict with them right now.

    • nsumi3 says:

      While Iran’s nuclear program has certainly had a troubled past, the point of the sanctions in the first place was to force Iran to cooperate with international investigators. Additionally, since the election of a new prime minister, Iran has been significantly more cooperative with international agencies. Seen in this light, to me, Netanyahu’s speech to Congress only two weeks before the Israeli presidential election on the “Iranian threat” seems needlessly antagonistic toward both his United States allies and his Iranian counterparts. Peace is a two-way street, and every it seems that Israel (strongly suspected to have developed a sizeable nuclear weapons arsenal) is not interested in committing to the process.

      • amiteichenbaum says:

        Based on my personal experiences in Israel, it is my impression that many people dislike Obama because they don’t consider him “pro-Israel” enough. So for Netanyahu, this is a political strategy.

        I actually think that him coming to the states and essentially butting heads with the president will be good for him in elections. It’s basically a power move.

        However, I’m not sure how many people in Israel are against Obama, considering my opinions come from speaking with typically conservative people in Jerusalem and of course my grandfather who consistently emailed me to vote for Romney during the 2012 elections…

        In addition, I personally think it’s hard for Israeli’s to commit to peace with Iran (or more, trust it) considering that “death to Israel” is still a very popular chant (http://www.jpost.com/Iranian-Threat/News/Iranians-carry-death-to-Israel-signs-as-Rouhani-tells-crowd-he-supports-dialogue-349859), and that Ahmadinejad (who was in office until 2 years ago) has consistently talked about “wiping Israel off the map”, is incredibly anti-Semitic and a holocaust denier. You can’t blame Israel for not being gung-ho about deals with Iran. Yes there is a new PM, but you can’t just ignore the past.

  7. Travis says:

    I understand why Netanyahu has concerns regarding the nuclear power of Iran, but he cannot expect Iran to continue forever without some type of nuclear facility. Nuclear power has helpful as well as harmful uses. Sure it could be used to wage an attack on Iran, but at the same time it could be used as an efficient energy source. Also, Netanyahu should have followed the appropriate procedure for expressing his views to the United States instead of attempting to arrive, for the most part, unannounced. If his intentions were to disturb the relationship between Iran and the United States, then I think he should have considered the possibility that his plan could backfire and cause forms of tension in his own country, Israel.

  8. vlobo3 says:

    This is definitely quite a difficult situation to analyze without knowing deeper facts about the situation. I do not think it was very “kosher” for Netanyahu to bring this up so close to an election. At the same time, however, I also think that it is important for him to bring these things up, especially knowing the history between Israel and Iran. If I were in his shoes, I feel that I would be very fearful if an enemy country had the potential to create nuclear missiles, and would want to bring that to attention of someone who could help stop it altogether.
    On the part of the US, I think it is a good idea to remain as neutral as possible. We really do not need to be making an enemy from this. I think we should try to help in whatever ways we can, but taking sides could be harmful to us in the end. Hopefully, we can help bring about some kind of compromise to insure the safety of Israel, and insure a positive use of the nuclear program in Iran.

  9. jkempa3 says:

    This post brings up some very interesting points of view and possible motivations behinds many of the actions playing out on the political stage. Iran’s nuclear program has been a hot topic for quite some time now, and for good reason. Anytime a country wants to or has the potential to attain or increase an arsenal of nuclear weapons the world should take notice. In the US, it sounds like the beginning of another political bicker fest instead of actually addressing an issue. The White House refusing to meet with prime minister of our closest ally in the middle east, despite the close elections, seems like quite a snub. Especially with the volatile nature of everything going on in the middle east.

  10. lmoghimi3 says:

    This post illustrates how convoluted politics can be with everybody having ulterior motives and only thinking of their best interests. On one hand Iran has the right to have a nuclear program in order to produce energy on the other hand Israel has a right to be concerned about their country. In my opinion as long as Iran complies with the UN’s regulations as far as nuclear energy and submits to international investigators they should be allowed to have that nuclear program. After such a long past Israel has a right to be concerned about possible threats that could arise from this program, but I think Iran deserves a chance at a nuclear program. If Iran can prove to the world that they just want to use the program for energy then hopefully that will bring us one step closer to understanding more countries in the Middle East.

  11. mlucchi says:

    Netanyahu’s rhetoric about Iran’s nuclear program does not sound unfamiliar. Often you can hear US republicans saying similar things about how Iran is close to having Nuclear weapons and the US should step up to stop them. It was an important debating point during the 2012 election between Obama and Romney. Israel has a right to be nervous to a certain extent as they are a Jewish state surrounded by Muslim states. Of course it could be argued that both Netanyahu and the republicans are just posturing and promoting nationalism for political reasons as promoting national security has been show to raise popularity in the past. It is a shame how politics can play such an important role in everything.

  12. jyount6 says:

    I agree that it is a troubling situation, but I definitely think that US politics should be the least of our worries in this situation. There is always the possibility that if Iran’s nuclear program is to be inspected at a certain date, things might be hidden prior to the inspections. Typically when the survival of a particular animal is threatened, people are all over the situation lobbying for support and arguing for their right to live. Why are people so nonchalant about the safety of Israel in this matter. It is a fact that they have been historically the subject of extermination attempts. Perhaps we should not be so quick to trust, but maybe Iran deserves a first chance. That’s why the topic is being discussed at such length, and that’s a good thing.

  13. corypope6 says:

    It seems like the main question being raised here is whether or not the Israeli prime minister is speaking in front of Congress to garner political support or because he actually cares about Iran’s nuclear arms program. I tend to stand on the latter side of the issue. Iran has stated on numerous occasions about its desire to destroy Israel, and nuclear arms is a great way to do just that. The United States would do everything in its power to protect its people if it felt that it was under a serious threat, and Netanyahu seems to be doing that. Also, Netanyahu as the prime minister has much more experience in dealing with Iran, and electing a new president could weaken Israel momentarily. I think that Netanyahu knows this and is trying to not preserve his power but instead preserve Israel.

  14. apabst3 says:

    It is interesting to see Netanyahu use the United States as his make or break move right before the election. You would think that he would want to be home talking to his own people right before the election. Instead he is half a world away talking to the US government. I guess this makes me realize how convoluted politics can become. When it comes to bi-partisanship in Congress I think we are going to get worse before we get better. Hopefully the politicians can think a little less like politicians and more like problem solvers so they can do their jobs.

  15. owest3 says:

    It is interesting to hear of how American Politics can play in to other countries elections. Though things like this can be crucial in our relations with other countries (especially Middle Eastern countries) it still is trivial that this comes down to American politics in controversy. Something else that is interesting about this post is how the UN gets to approve if Iran gets to create nuclear power plants and have access to nuclear power. The country’s national security is a large factor in this decision, but it is interesting how Iran is wanting to take on such a project when they have a war going on around them. It should also be questioned if they would want to use their nuclear power against Israel.

  16. missypittard says:

    I read this and can’t help but think about the Iranian perspective. Does it seem hypocritical to anyone else that we, the United States, are telling another country to disband a nuclear program, when we ourselves have enough nuclear power to wipe out civilization several times over? It seems that this is the kind of arrogance that cause nations around the world resent Americans. Netanyahu’s reservations may be valid, but so many political factors are at play, it is difficult to discern what will be denote these talks as a success.

  17. lalaninatl says:

    While I think America is a big player in the middle east. I think it’s better if the Middle East was self-sustainable. In order for the region to self sufficient they need to gradually get less and less help from other nations. I think calling on other nations should only be used if absolutely necessary. The reason I think they aren’t self standing yet is because of outside interests in the resources of the area.

  18. zhu64 says:

    I have a strong opinion on this issue. I think we should not be allowing a leader of another country trying to affect our foreign policy. This is an example of politics destroy this country. I believe if israel is truly an ally of the US, then he should back off and call off the speech. This shows a lot about Netanyahu he is taking advantage of US alliance to further his own ambition.

  19. kimpgt says:

    I’m glad that people are posting about this topic each week because it provides updates and progress on the debate. It is good to see that the there is some progress towards peaceful energy pursuits, howeverhow I feel that it is just a publicity comment to keep peace between nations. No true progress has been made and Iran just assumes they will get what they want, while other nations think that Iran will be stopped. The comments being made by the UN and US seem ambiguous and will just be pushed back as long as possible.

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