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Netanyahu’s purpose lost among drama

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It’s unfortunate when partisan politics gets in the way of a lively debate about profoundly important decisions that will influence the future of civilization.

We’re speaking about the political brouhaha that erupted around Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to accept the Republican-controlled Congress’ invitation to speak. Netanyahu will voice Israel’s existential concerns about the American-led peace negotiations with Iran, a country that has been a source of global friction for the better part of the last century.

America – and our staunch Mideast ally, Israel – have had a troubled relationship with Iran since the late 1970s, when the Iranian revolution held hostage dozens of Americans. The inability of President Jimmy Carter to gain the hostages’ release led to his loss to Ronald Reagan in 1980. I remember vividly the split screen inauguration of Reagan and the homecoming of the hostages that day.

Think about it: a relatively small country in the Middle East, without nuclear capability and with a small army, bloodlessly toppled an American president and began its four-decades long ascent as a behind-the-scenes world power.

Since then, Iran has gone to war with neighboring Iraq, built and funded proxy terrorist organizations in Lebanon and the West Bank (Hezbollah and Hamas) and successfully suppressed a revolution during the brief Arab Spring. It is the most powerful Arab country in the Middle East and its tentacles reach far beyond its borders.

Iran is once again in the news because it is driving a wedge in U.S.-Israeli relations as the world debates how to halt its seemingly inexorable march to develop nuclear weapons, a prospect that even Israel’s foes in the Arab world like Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates do not want to see happen. Netanyahu has become desperate to sound the alarm that Iran is on the verge of developing a nuclear bomb, a prospect that leaves many Israelis with the kind of existential dread they have not had since the state of Israel was created in 1948 in the wake of the Holocaust.

I recall an event from the summer of 1981 when I was visiting Israel after my freshman year in college. Saddam Hussein, an Israel-hating dictator in Iraq, Iran’s neighbor, was rumored to be trying to develop a nuclear bomb that would allow him to execute his threat to annihilate the 33-year-old state of Israel. But one night, Israeli planes secretly flew over Iraq and surgically destroyed that country’s underground nuclear arms reactors, thus eliminating Hussein’s threat to Israel’s future. I recall that President Reagan initially publicly chastised Israel for its bold military action. My Israeli aunt, after watching Reagan on television, wisely said: “The world is mad at us today. But in ten years they will be thanking us.”

Think about it. If an unstable dictator like Hussein had a nuclear bomb in the early 1990s, he would have wreaked havoc in the Middle East. And two years ago, Israel quietly knocked out a nuclear reactor in Syria. Can you imagine what would be happening in that country’s civil war now if a nuclear bomb had been developed there?

It is imperative now, more than ever, for the world to put safeguards in place to make sure that Iran cannot develop a bomb. There is a March 24 deadline for a treaty that the United States is now trying to negotiate.

Which brings us to Netanyahu’s speech to Congress this week. He was invited to speak by Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who did not tell President Obama in advance. For that reason, Netanyahu is being criticized by the administration and top Dems in Congress. Some will not attend as a show of protest.

All of this controversy is clouding the substance of Netanyahu’s planned speech, which should raise the world’s awareness of the imminent danger Israel – and perhaps the world at large – is facing if Iran is able to develop a bomb. When you live within a few hundred miles of the leaders of a country who have repeatedly vowed to destroy Israel, then it is your right – actually, your duty – to speak up as loud as you can to stop this.

There is no bigger pulpit and bullhorn than the halls of the U.S. Congress for Netanyahu to make his extremely important case against the proposed treaty. This is the ultimate test of free speech. If the leaders and citizens of the United States and the rest of the world don’t find his case persuasive, then his argument will fall flat. But, if he presents information that is compelling and stands up to great scrutiny, then he will have added a valuable voice to this important debate.

Let’s put politics, partisanship and party aside to try to get to the truth. The security of the Middle East – and a potential world war – may be at stake.

Tom Allon, the president of City & State, NY, is the son of Holocaust survivors and has many relatives in Israel.

Updated 12:32 am, July 10, 2018
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