Iran took center stage at a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon all spoke at about Iran's continuing nuclear threat during their speeches. With the talks over dismantling Iran's nuclear weapons program continuing in the upcoming week, United States President Barack Obama is looking to ease up the economic sanctions imposed on Iran, whereas Netanyahu believes that Iran should be forced to dismantle their entire program, uranium enrichment inclusive, and the only way that can be accomplished is by keeping up the sanctions.
Prime Minister Netanyahu in his speech reiterated many of the messages he has been using in other recent speeches about Iran. This included emphasizing how important maintaining the international sanctions is during the negotiation process, and ensuring that any deal includes completely dismantling their program, without allowing any uranium enrichment to continue, because they can build up their program again if they are allowed to continue the enrichment even at a low percentage.
Netanyahu emphasized that Israel supports dismantling the program through diplomacy as opposed to force, which was what Israel had been prepared to do, prior to the new regime's interest in negotiations; "We are committed to stopping this threat, and if it is possible by peaceful means and diplomacy - good."
Speaking of the talks' progress after their first meeting Netanyahu brought up that Iran needs to cease their program, not continue on while talks are place. Netanyahu recounted; "I hear after each round of talks that the Iranian representatives say that the talks were 'useful'... of course - useful to Iran. They continue to enrich and advance toward their goal. In order for the talks to be useful for the world, Iran should completely dismantle its nuclear program."
Netanyahu continued to stress that it is important for the sanctions to remain place if the talks are to be successful. The Prime Minister explained; "If the pressure is maintained, Iran will be stripped of its nuclear capability. This pressure makes it difficult for Iran. They try to avoid it. If Syria had offered to rid itself of 20% of its chemical weapons, who would take it seriously?" The Prime Minister stated it would be counterproductive if the sanctions were lifted; "If the pressure weakens, Iran will continue its effort to obtain nuclear weapons. In any case we need to be prepared for any scenario at any time."
PM Netanyahu on a different note stated how important it is for Israel to keep their army, the Israel Defense Force strong for the country's national security; "40 years after the Yom Kippur War, the IDF is stronger than ever and we must ensure that it continues to be strong…. The decision [to raise the defense budget] balances the needs of the army with the challenges it faces, as well as allows us to lead the economy responsibly, because there is no security without a growing economy."
President Shimon Peres in his remarks at the event also spoke about Iran's nuclear program; "The biggest threat we face today is the Iranian threat. This is a threat to us and to the entire world, and it is good that we are integrated in a global coalition that arose and pledged to end it with measures that will prove most effective." Peres also promised that although Iran was not Israel's enemy until recently, since the Islamic regimes were installed in 1979, Israel will use force if necessary, declaring; "Historically we were not enemies of the Iranian people, but we will also never become their victims. If they use force against us, we will respond with our own force, the power of which they are unaware."
Also speaking at the event was Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, who brought up Iran in his address. Ya'alon discussed the importance of not underestimating one's enemies; "The war taught us that our real enemies are the underestimating, lack of modesty and tyranny of thought. We must never underestimate the enemy, and we must lead a responsible and prudent way of leadership." In direct relation, Ya'alon warned that Iran's nuclear threat has to be taken seriously by the world, stating; "Do not sweep the Iranian nuclear problem under the rug, as recent history proves that concessions and lack of determination now are a recipe for lack of control and disaster in later years."
Secretary of State John Kerry is set to meet again for the second time in two weeks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu according to an announcement made on Thursday Oct. 31. Kerry will make a trip to Middle East, arriving Tuesday evening, Nov. 5, 2013, where he will meet on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013 with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu. He will primarily discuss the lack of progress with the peace talks after three months, 15 meetings.
Kerry and Netanyahu will also discuss the status of talks with Iran over dismantling the nuclear weapons program at their meeting, a major concern for Israel. Kerry will be going to Geneva, Switzerland for talks with Iran on Nov. 7 and 8. At this point there has already been already one round of meetings between the P5+1 nations; Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.S and Iran over their nuclear program held in the Oct. 16 and 17 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Secretary of State Kerry is in charge of the talks with Iran to dismantle their nuclear weapons program. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was elected in June and took over Iranian leadership in August. Rouhani has expressed a more moderate approach than his predecessor, with diplomatic overtures, and a willingness to curb the country's nuclear weapons program, which he stated in his address to the United Nations General Assembly in September.
There has also been a cautious rapprochement between the United States and Iran. After Housani took office, President Barack Obama exchanged letters with him, which was the first step in the thaw, then there was the overtures in Rouhani's UN speech, followed by the meeting between Kerry and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the UNGA, and the historic call between Obama and Rouhani.
With the current talks with Iran, Rouhani had made it clear he would not agree to any "final status deal" that involved totally dismantling their uranium enrichment; he wants to keep it at 20 percent. The United States did not indicate if they would demand total dismantling or give in to Rouhani's demands.
Still there has some vehemently anti-Israel rhetoric coming the new Iranian regime, especially in their staunch Palestinian support. Netanyahu still views Iran as a threat to Israel, and is insisting on the need for a total dismantling of every aspect of their program, as a result. Netanyahu wants the international community to keep the tough economic sanctions on Iran until their nuclear program is completely dismantled. Netanyahu has been insisting on that message in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, in every meeting with foreign leaders, and in every address relating to foreign policy and Israel's national security.
Earlier in the week, on Monday, Oct. 28 President Barack Obama phoned Netanyahu to discuss the same two issues; the peace talks and Iran. Very few details were released about the phone call and the White House's statement was also minimal only saying; "President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke by phone today as part of their regular consultations. The two leaders discussed recent developments related to Iran, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and other regional issues. The two leaders agreed to continue their close coordination on a range of security issues."
The Obama Administration wants to lift Iran's economic sanctions for approximately three months during the talks as a gesture of good will. Netanyahu fiercely opposes this move or any move to lift sanctions, and actually believes sanctions should be tightened. A bipartisan group of Senators want to pursue legislation that would halve Iran's oil exports. Senator Mark Kirk, R-IL is not convinced that the sanctions should be delayed, telling Reuters; "Every day the Senate delays consideration of new sanctions, Iran installs more centrifuges, enriches more uranium and improves its nuclear breakout capability. If Iran is capable of negotiating while violating international law, the United States should be equally capable of negotiating while imposing new sanctions pressure." The President wants Congress to hold off of their proposed plans to introduce more sanctions at least until after the second round of talks with Iran.
Opposition to lifting the sanctions and even imposing new sanctions is high among American Jews as well. The White House and State Department officials summoned and met with the leaders of American Jewish organizations, and lobbying groups including "the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee." The meeting held on Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 29 at the White House and conducted by National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. The officials assured the organizations the sanctions will not be lifted unless Iran shows they are serious about dismantling their nuclear weapons program; despite this assurance, the meeting was heated. The Jewish lobbying groups have been advocating that Congress implement more sanctions.
At the weekly cabinet meeting, on Sunday, Oct. 27, Netanyahu used his opening remarks to also caution the U.S. and international community against lifting the sanctions and allowing the Iranians at all to continue uranium enrichment at all, whether its 20 or 3.5 percent, stating; "The Iranians are intentionally focusing the discussion on this issue. It is without importance. This was the focus of the long and detailed talks I had with John Kerry."
The United States and President Obama should not heed to a policy of appeasement with Iran; their past actions have not afforded them that luxury. Nuclear weapons capability anyway should not negotiated with appeasement, but rather with a strong hand. It is because the international community was firm on imposing and keeping the sanctions against Iran in place that negotiations are happening in the first place. The U.S. should listen to Israel's warnings; a goal of completely dismantling a program, should involve that, there should not be any remnant ways to allow Iran to build their program back up. Israel may not be taking the popular choice, but national security trumps popularity in the long run, because the next time Iran build's up their program the world may not have another opportunity to dismantle it.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech at an event the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, Oct. 31, 2013
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.