Sanctions on Iran Are the Issue, Not Whether Netanyahu Addresses Congress

The Kirk-Menendez bill, which contains a warning of further sanctions if a nuclear agreement is not reached, is a good way to pressure Tehran.

Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens
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Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard celebrating after the launch of a missile during maneuvers,  July 3, 2012.
Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard celebrating after the launch of a missile during maneuvers, July 3, 2012.Credit: AP
Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens

To sanction or not to sanction – that is the question. It’s the real question for Israel — not whether the prime minister should accept or reject the invitation from House Speaker John Boehner to address Congress. The question is whether the threat of sanctions might be helpful in convincing the Iranians that the world is serious about preventing them from attaining nuclear weapons.

The Iranians insist that their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only and that they have no intention of attaining a nuclear-weapons capability. It is generally accepted that this is an outright lie, but the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (the P5+1) negotiating with Iran on a rollback of the program are playing along with this prevarication and assume that the Iranians are negotiating in good faith.

After months of negotiations, an interim agreement was reached on November 24, 2013, which provided for a six-month freeze of uranium enrichment in Iran, a certain degree of transparency to be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and certain adjustments to the nuclear program — in exchange for a softening of the economic sanctions.

A one-year deadline was set to reach a comprehensive agreement that presumably would end the nuclear-weapons program. That deadline was missed and the P5+1 extended the negotiations with Iran for another seven months, until July 6, 2015. That is where things stand at the moment.

The Iranians are obviously dragging their feet in these negotiations and have given no indication that they are prepared to abandon their quest for nuclear weapons, turn over their enriched uranium, dismantle their centrifuges and scrap their ballistic missiles. How can they be pressured to reach an agreement that would provide for that?

Two American senators, Illinois Republican Mark Kirk and New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez, have sponsored a bill that would impose sanctions on Iran if an agreement is not reached by the July 6 deadline. It calls for a reinstatement of the sanctions that have been eased; thereafter the sanctions would be stepped up every month there is no agreement. The bill is bipartisan; it is not a Republican maneuver as reported in the Israeli press.

There is deep concern about the Iranian nuclear program on both sides of the aisle. There is a real concern that the negotiations may lead to no deal or a bad deal. The threat of sanctions may make the Iranians soften their position. Some argue it may make the Iranians break off the negotiations. If it is really their intention to abandon their nuclear program, they would have no reason to do so knowing that if an agreement were reached it would end all sanctions.

What should Israel’s position be in this matter? Nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles in the Iranian arsenal represent a mortal danger to Israel. The intention of Iran’s rulers to destroy Israel has been repeated many times. Any measures that would apply pressure on Iran to reach a satisfactory agreement are in Israel’s interest. The Kirk-Menendez bill, which contains a warning of sanctions if an agreement is not reached, is such a measure.

Under these circumstances, would it be wise for Israel’s prime minister to decline an invitation to appear before a joint session of Congress? Such an invitation is a high honor for the prime minister and for Israel itself. That Israel’s counsel is being sought in this all-important matter is a clear indication of the close relationship between the two countries. The call by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni for Benjamin Netanyahu to decline the invitation is not good advice.

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