Today’s news backs up the main points of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent address to Congress. In his controversial speech this week, the Israeli leader stressed two arguments, both of which were casually dismissed by cheerleaders for President Obama’s proposed nuclear deal with Iran.
The first was that even tighter sanctions against Iran might prove effective, pointing out that it is Tehran’s economic struggles that have led to its presence at the bargaining table. As he put it, “they need the deal a lot more than you do.” The second was that the prospect of Iran accessing a nuclear weapon within a fairly short time frame, as the agreement apparently allows, is likely to trigger an arms race in the Middle East.
Suggesting the plight of Iran’s economy – and the efficacy of sanctions, in addition to lower oil prices – have been mounting demonstrations about living conditions. In Tehran, tens of thousands of teachers marched (illegally) through the streets this past week complaining of low wages. According to local (Arab) news reports, the government has become alarmed, fearing that the protests will spread to “trade unions and government employees who are also suffering from declining incomes.”
The Al-Arab newspaper noted that “this is the widest wave of protests against the Iranian regime since the election of President Hassan Rouhani in June 2013” and that “Iranian media rarely cover these demonstrations.”
It is not only declining revenues that have driven Iran’s economy to shrink for two consecutive years and rack up unsustainable budget deficits (in 2013-14 the hole totaled $24 billion). It is also the burden of its ever-expanding military adventures. At great expense, Iran is actively supporting troops and weapons in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon. The Wall Street Journal reports that “Iran has spent tens of billions of dollars in loans, weapons and subsidized fuel to prop up the Assad regime…”
The pressure on the government is such that it is resorting to extreme measures to bolster revenues. One such tactic, reported by The Financial Times, is charging Iranian families $3,600 to $18,000 to exempt their offspring from military service. They have capped the number granted the reprieve at 1.5 million. Surely this smacks of desperation.
Netanyahu also alerted Congress to the risk that allowing Iran to develop a nuclear weapon would surely encourage others in the region to follow suit. Yesterday, as Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Saudi Arabia to soothe relations with yet another disaffected ally, Riyadh also welcomed Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s Prime Minister. As the Financial Times noted, this was not likely a coincidence, considering “persistent rumors that the Saudis have an informal agreement with Pakistan to gain access to nuclear weapons technology if the kingdom ever felt it was needed.”
As the paper points out, the Saudis are discreet and long on smoke signals; this was considered a smoke signal. In addition, the Riyadh government signed a deal with South Korea earlier in the week that may lead to the building of two nuclear reactors.
Obama is rushing headlong into concluding an agreement with Iran that appears risky, and targeted mainly at burnishing his disastrous record on foreign relations. The president maintains that he has the authority to pursue this accord single-handedly, with no input from Congress. Nor is he impressed with the need to share information about the negotiations with legislators – or the American public. If it is a good agreement, and defensible, why does Obama shirk from making his case?
Why all the secrecy?
Maybe it’s because Netanyahu has it right – and it’s a very bad deal.
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