Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered quite possibly the best campaign speech of his career last Tuesday. In his much-anticipated and divisive address before Congress, Bibi used high-level fear mongering to campaign against the ongoing negotiations with Iran, and for his own reelection. In his denigration of the current diplomatic efforts, though, the Prime Minister failed, as President Obama put it, to offer any “viable alternatives” to the deal that is currently being negotiated.
Netanyahu did, however, insist on an illusory “better deal.” In fact, he brought up this “better deal” seven times throughout his speech – not once elaborating on the logistics or even the specifics of what an alternative deal would look like.
That’s because a “better deal” is fantasy.
Netanyahu might as well have gone to the zoo and asked to see the unicorns. Even more, insisted to see the unicorns. Of course everyone at the zoo would love to see the unicorns. But just like a “better deal,” unicorns don’t exist.
Bibi had two major qualms with the deal currently being negotiated: that it “would leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure, providing it with a short break-out time to the bomb” and that “virtually all the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program would automatically expire in about a decade.”
Of course permanently destroying Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would be ideal. But experts agree: it’s unrealistic to expect Iran to demolish its nuclear program entirely or accept a deal that is indefinite as part of any diplomatic deal.
That Netanyahu qualified a 12-month break-out time as “short” is also curious, considering his 2012 speech to the United Nations General Assembly in which he says, “The red line should be drawn right here…before Iran gets to the point where it’s a few months away or a few weeks away from amassing enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon.” Netanyahu’s personal goalpost has moved from a few months to a whole year, and still this doesn’t seem to be long enough.
What’s more, according to Brookings Institutions Senior Fellow and U.S. delegate to the Iran negotiations from 2009-2013 Robert Einhorn, “a break out time of one year is more than enough time to exhaust diplomatic efforts and economic pressures before turning, if necessary, to military force.”
As for the duration of the deal, as Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes put it, a double-digit sunset clause “should not be read as some type of preemptive permission slip for Iran to pursue a nuclear weapon on the back end of this agreement. The fact of the matter is the same type of options that we have in place today to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon will be available to the president of the United States in 10, 15 years—whenever the conclusion of the duration of the deal is.”
But Netanyahu’s speech to Congress isn’t the only obstacle to a deal that would ensure Iran does not get a nuclear weapon. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) decided to fast-track Senator Corker’s (R-Tenn.) legislation that would require Congress to give an up or down vote on any potential deal. In response, nine Senate Democrats and one Independent, many of whom are co-sponsors of the legislation, wrote McConnell to say they would not vote for the bill if it comes to the floor before March 24th – the somewhat shaky date set for a political framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. Last Thursday, McConnell capitulated and decided to postpone the vote that likely would have faced a democratic filibuster.
No one, on either side of the debate, wants to see a nuclear-armed Iran. But unfortunately, unicorns still don’t exist. In failing to provide a “viable alternative,” Netanyahu proved that the best chance for keeping Iran from the bomb is the deal currently being negotiated.