Senate Hawks’ Tantrums over Iran Deal Set the Stage for the 2nd Republican Debate
September 16, 2015
At a recent anti-Iran deal rally on Capitol Hill, 2016 GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) employed characteristically hyper-alarmist rhetoric to denounce the recent nuclear agreement, declaring: "If this deal goes through, we know to an absolute certainty people will die. Americans will die, Israelis will die, Europeans will die.” He then seemingly threatened to go to war: “If Iran will not stop its nuclear program, we will stop it for you.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has stridently opposed the Iran nuclear negotiations and characterized the recent nuclear deal as a “disaster” and a “death sentence for Israel.” Renowned for his tantrums and hyperbolic statements on U.S. foreign policy, Graham calls the agreement the “biggest mistake any president of the United States could make.”
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate who is reportedly a favorite of “pro-Israel” GOP-donor Sheldon Adelson, has misleadingly argued that the U.S. will have to protect Iran’s nuclear sites, claiming that “if any other country tries to undermine [Iran’s] nuclear program, we have to help them defend themselves against Israel, Egypt, Saudis, our own allies." Politifact has rated this claim as “false.”
Hawkish “pro-Israel” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is one of just four Democratic Senators to come out against the Iran nuclear deal. In his speech announcing his opposition to the agreement, Menendez stressed that the United States should support Israel launching military strikes against Iran. "We should authorize now the means for Israel to address the Iranian threat on their own in the event that Iran accelerates its program and to counter Iranian perceptions that our own threat to use force is not credible," he proclaimed.
During a visit to Israel just ahead of the Congress’s consideration of the Iran deal, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) made clear that Israel’s right-wing prime minister was one of his main advisers concerning U.S. foreign policy objectives in the Middle East. “There is no one better to discuss the impact of a nuclear Iran, both in the Middle East and in the world,” he said after meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I will stand with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel and work with my colleagues in Congress to stop this deal and to ensure that Israel has the means to defend itself against Iran and its terrorist surrogates.”
Hawkish Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) breathlessly claims that the Iran nuclear deal represents an “existential threat” to the United States. She said in a recent interview: “It’s deeply troubling for our alliance in the region because you’ve seen the Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] saying that this is a historic mistake for Israel, this is something that is an existential threat to Israel, but it is also a threat, an existential threat, to us.”
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), a vociferous critic of negotiations with Iran, says the nuclear deal is the “greatest appeasement since Chamberlain gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler.” He wildly claims that “tens of thousands of people in the Middle East are gonna lose their lives because of this decision by Barack Hussein Obama” and that what the president really wants is “to get nukes to Iran.”
Uber-hawk Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has lambasted the Iran deal as having “fundamental flaws” and has hyperbolically declared that Iran is “probably the biggest threat to America and everything we stand for.” Shortly before the April 2015 framework nuclear deal with Iran was announced, McCain announced that Israel may have to “go rogue” to survive the remainder to Obama’s presidency.
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Feel free to circulate this recent op-ed that I wrote if you think it may be of interest to your readers.
— Mike Moore
“A few facts you may not hear in the GOP debate”
By Mike Moore
(Original published in the Green Valley News)
The second debate featuring the leading Republican contenders for the presidency will be next Wednesday. It will be lively and contentious. But there will be at least one show of unanimity: All will suggest that a feckless president and a churlish secretary of state are selling Israel down the river with the proposed "deal" with Iran regarding Iran's presumed nuclear weapons program.
Few issues are as complicated as the proposed deal; nonetheless, it is supported by the majority of the world's nations, including China and Russia, as well as by the global arms-control community. Obviously, that widespread support is lacking here in the United States. Here are a few facts that are not likely to pop up in the Wednesday night debate.
Israel has been a nuclear-weapon state since the late 1960s. But Israel does not advertise it. It neither confirms nor denies that it has nuclear weapons; it simply says that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East. The meaning of "introduce" is intentionally ambiguous, in tune with Israel's official policy of nuclear "opacity." It is not clear how many nukes Israel has; best-guess estimates are generally in the 80-150 range. Israel's nukes are deliverable by aircraft as well as by land-based and submarine-based missiles.
Israel and Persian Iran are the most culturally rich and highly educated nations in the Middle East. Persian culture harks back more than 2000 years; the same can be said for Jewish culture. Undeniably, Iran has a long history of supporting terrorism against Israel on behalf of the Palestinian people, whom it believes have been treated poorly by Israel. And yet, given Iran's long and rich cultural heritage, it is hard to grasp why Iran would court national suicide. If Iran ever launched a nuclear bomb against Israel, Iran would be destroyed by retaliatory strikes, conventional and nuclear. In sheer military muscle, Iran is no match for Israel, and never will be. Israel is one of the most militarily powerful states in the world. Its ingenuity and the enormous and continuing military aid given to it by the United States, even under President Obama, will ensure that it will remain so.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, has often said that Israel reserves the right to use military force against Iran to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon. That's rhetoric, not reality. Iran's key nuclear facilities are widely dispersed, deeply buried, and "hardened." That is, most are relatively immune from non-nuclear aerial attack. Only the United States has sufficiently powerful "bunker-busting" bombs — the 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator developed for possible use against Iran — that could reliably take out these targets.
In short, the prime minister of Israel can start a war by sending in Israeli planes, but he cannot finish it. Iran would retaliate by raining conventional missiles on Israel, killing many Israelis. Given the widespread support for Israel in the United States, it is likely that we would be drawn into the war, most likely by bombing Iran's nuclear-weapon facilities as well as military bases. As precise as America’s weapons are, hundreds or perhaps thousands of Iranians, military and civilian, would be killed. That Pearl Harbor-type attack would trigger a wider war.
The chief argument against the Iranian "deal" is that after 10 or 12 or 15 years Iran would be a "threshold" nuclear state. That is, it would then have the wherewithal to quickly put together a nuclear weapon, if it chose to do so, thus threatening Israel. Therefore, dump the deal.
That “threshold” argument is a ruse. The first time that Netanyahu warned Congress about the possibility that Iran was developing nuclear weapons was not last year, but in July 1996, during his first tenure as prime minister. "Only the United States can lead this vital international effort to stop the nuclearization of terrorist states," he said in reference to Iran. "But the deadline for attaining this goal is getting extremely close."
Over the past 10 years, Netanyahu has repeatedly said that Iran was on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons. In recent years, he has been exactly right. Since about 2008, Iran has been a “threshold” state. During that time, Iran has chosen not to build an actual weapon. One of many reasons for that may be that international sanctions, put together by the Obama administration, have been exceedingly painful to Iran. In the end, Iran decided to negotiate the deal that is on the table today to obtain relief from the sanctions. What will happen 10 or 15 years on is unknowable. But if the deal fails in the United States and the sanctions fall, Iran would be able to produce a weapon very soon, if it so chooses.
There is considerable evidence that if the current deal is rejected by the United States, the sanctions regime will collapse. The international diplomatic world is abuzz with that scenario. There will be no further negotiations, no “better deal.” The European states who have been part of the negotiations believe it's the best deal that can be gotten. Russia and China, whose support was vital to achieving the deal, are not likely to resume the process should it fall apart. Deal or no deal, they are eager to resume trade with Iran.
The true nightmare scenario: While focusing on Iran and what it might or might not do, we tend to forget that Muslim Pakistan has been a nuclear state for a couple of decades. It is believed to have about a hundred nuclear weapons to counter India’s nukes. (India and Pakistan have a nuclear stand-off much like the old U.S.-Soviet nuclear stand-off.) Pakistan's notoriously corrupt dictatorial government is shaky. Jihadists – the Pakistani Taliban — have made great inroads; their power steadily grows.
This is fact; now for speculation: It is conceivable that the Taliban may topple the Pakistani government at some point. The jihadists would then have access to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal — and to missiles capable of delivering them. A jihadist state might well shift its focus from India to Iran — and to Israel. Iran is the leading Shia state; Shias, by the reckoning of extreme Sunni jihadists, are apostates who deserve to die. And we already know what jihadists think of Israelis. In short, the United States may someday be in the position of defending Israel — and Iran — from Pakistani bombs.
This column is not designed to ruin your day. It simply hints at a simple fact: the complexities of the Middle East cannot be boiled down to debate-stage talking points and slogans.
Mike Moore, who lives in Green Valley, was editor of the "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists" in the 1990s; in 2002-3, he served on two task forces exploring national security issues, one sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the other by the Eisenhower Institute. In 2008, he testified before the U.N. Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Affairs. His 2008 book, "Twilight War: The Folly of U.S. Space Dominance," won a Benjamin Franklin Award given by the Independent Book Publishers Association in the “Political/Current Events” category.