March 4, 2015

Policy Memo: Analysis of Netanyahu’s Speech

Netanyahu was wrong about the Iraq war, wrong about the interim nuclear deal that has constrained Iran’s nuclear activities, and he is wrong about the President’s negotiations toward a comprehensive agreement with Iran.  Aside from the debate over the breach of protocol and damage to the U.S.-Israeli relationship, this was a full assault on an agreement that would offer the strongest possible safeguards against an Iranian nuclear weapon. Netanyahu came to defeat a historic diplomatic achievement and undermine the U.S. President. 

Netanyahu belittled the prospect of enhanced inspections and verification, stating “inspectors document violations; they don’t stop them.” 

Reality: No nation has ever obtained a nuclear weapon under IAEA inspections. 

  • North Korea developed weapons only by leaving the NPT and ejecting inspectors. 
  • A deal would lock in permanent enhanced inspections and ensure Iran remains in the NPT. If Iran cheated and tried to break out, we would catch them. 
  • Netanyahu wants to sacrifice all of this. His approach – killing a nuclear deal – would actually risk having no inspections, no restraints, and no compliance with the NPT.

PM Netanyahu criticized a deal because it would only last “about a decade.”

Reality: The increased transparency, inspections, and verification mechanisms under a deal would be permanent.

  • Under a final agreement Iran would ratify the IAEA Additional Protocol, expanding inspector access to Iran’s nuclear program and suspect nuclear sites on a permanent basis.
  • All of the alternative options to constrain Iran’s nuclear program are far shorter than the 10-15 years of a deal:

– Deal – 10-15 years. The constraints on Iran’s enrichment under a deal are expected to last for 10 years and scale down for approximately 5 years after that – for a total of 15 years. At this point, there would be very strong incentives against Iran violating its permanent obligations and breaking out.

– US military strikes: ~2 years. Bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities would not destroy Iran’s nuclear know how, and military experts expect could only delay Iran from rebuilding for approximately 1-2 years. Strikes would also provide cover for Iran to abandon the NPT and eject inspectors, and would provide strong incentives for Iran to quickly breakout and develop a nuclear deterrent.

– Israeli military strikes: ~6 months. Israel could not destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and could only set it back by approximately 6 months.  

– Sanctions: no constraint. Sanctions may slow Iranian procurement, but in the past decade of sanctions, Iran has gone from <200 centrifuges to >20,000 centrifuges. Only the interim agreement–and the trading-in of sanctions–has arrested this progress. 

Netanyahu urged Congress to pursue a “better deal” that only exists in fantasy. 

Reality: There is no better deal on the table that would dismantle Iran’s entire nuclear program. The alternative to diplomacy is war.

  • Netanyahu made clear he opposes any deal with Iran, yet presented no alternative – that’s because his alternative is war and regime change. Such an approach is bad for the U.S. and bad for Israel.
  • Negotiations with Iran took off when the counterproductive “zero enrichment” demand was dropped. Resurrecting the idea will block any viable agreement.
  • Netanyahu would prefer we sacrifice a deal that would put real constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and instead issue tough talk demands about non-nuclear issues.
  • Sanctions and threats of war would provoke Iran to expand its nuclear program and limit the access of inspectors to Iran’s nuclear program.
  • This would increase the likelihood of both an Iranian nuclear weapon and war. U.S. troops would likely pay the price if Congress helps Netanyahu kill the deal.

Netanyahu warned that Iran is a bad actor stretching its influence across the region. 

Reality: there is strategic convergence between the U.S. and Iran on certain regional issues, including the battle against ISIS. 

  •  Netanyahu listed a long litany of problems that the international community has with Iran’s activities. But that is no reason to reject an agreement that would offer strong assurances against a nuclear-armed Iran.
  • Indeed, Iran’s concerning activities outside of the nuclear sphere are a strong justification for the Obama administration’s continued pursuit of a nuclear agreement. 

A strong nuclear deal is not a threat to the U.S. or Israel, but it could be a threat to Netanyahu’s political future. Congress shouldn’t let this political stunt blow up fruitful negotiations that hold the promise of resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis.

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