Imagine for a moment that your neighbor down the street was engaged in some basement science that could level your house and even kill you, if he so desired. Your best friend, who happens to live some distance away, out of harm’s reach, can end the threat to your life and property but is now trying to legalize your neighbor’s dangerous work. What would you do?
This is the situation facing Israel on the eve of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, a speech preceded by so much talk of protocol and partisanship that we seem to have lost the forest for the trees. It is clear that for more than a decade, Iran has been illicitly developing nuclear capabilities and thumbing its nose at efforts to monitor its progress in accordance with international guidelines. During that period, Iran has worked assiduously to expand its influence throughout the Middle East. Iranian money, arms and training assistance have enabled Hezbollah and Hamas to rank alongside Al Qaeda and Islamic State as the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations. And throughout, Iran has never hidden its hatred for Israel or its desire to expunge it from the historical record.
The international community has realized the serious dangers posed by a nuclear Iran and has embarked on a noble and necessary effort to bring the Iranian project to a halt. No achievement could be more important than resolving this issue peacefully through negotiations that maintain sanctions on Iran and ensure it is free of centrifuges, heavy-water reactors, enrichment facilities and programs to develop intercontinental delivery systems.
We have a historic opportunity to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program; unfortunately, the agreement taking shape falls short of what we can achieve. The proposed deal would place limits on Iran’s nuclear program but will not eliminate it or even, in the long term, contain it. And though Iran would be subject to rigorous international inspections, it has never been forthcoming on its nuclear program — not even during the current round of negotiations, as a recent International Atomic Energy Agency report makes clear.
Instead of limiting the spread of nuclear technology and enforcing, this agreement would reward Iran for defying international norms and encourage other countries to do the same. If we do not seize the opportunity to address Iran’s ambitions definitively, we risk passing the problem off to our children and leaving them to confront what will surely be a nuclear-armed regime. Such a state would pose serious threats to the world’s and Israel’s security.
Faced with tacit international consent to a hostile nuclear regime on our doorstep, the prime minister, as a responsible leader, is taking the necessary next step — turning to Israel’s friends, the government and people of the United States, in a speech to Congress scheduled for March 3.
As speaker of the Knesset, I insist that the only proper way for foreign leaders to address the Israeli people is before their elected representatives, in the Knesset. The same is true of the United States. To address the American public, no venue — no conference or news show — can substitute for a joint session of Congress, where every group, every state and every citizen is duly represented.
Congressional support for Israel is not a partisan issue in the U.S.; the friendship between our countries runs deep on both sides of the aisle. My own conversations with senior members of Congress in recent weeks have confirmed that they deeply understand and appreciate our concerns and remain committed to Israel’s security. In fact, they view the prime minister’s speech as an opportunity to hear an important viewpoint that can make a positive contribution to a matter of global importance.
The speech on Tuesday is not just about Iran’s nuclear race and it is not just about Israel. It is about whether we, as free people committed to democratic ideals, are still capable of standing together and resisting the temptation to compromise and appease our foes. With an agreement due within the month, we must rally together now to fight this evil in all its guises.
Our mutual enemy is still working away. We have an opportunity to stop him. Let’s not squander it.
Yuli Edelstein is the speaker of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.