Recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on friends and allies around the world to take “immediate punitive steps” against Iran after it conducted the latest in a series of ballistic missile tests. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif defended these provocations, asserting instead that Iran was exercising its right to self-defense. It strains credulity that launching missiles emblazoned with the phrase “Israel must be wiped out” can be interpreted as anything other than a hostile act.
Predictably, the response has been lackluster. Instead of taking action against Iran’s clear violation of the UN Security Council resolutions, officials have resorted to equivocating about the intent of the missile launches. Minister Zarif has defended these tests by arguing the deal “doesn't call upon Iran not to test ballistic missiles, or ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads . . . it calls upon Iran not to test ballistic missiles that were 'designed' to be capable.” Unfortunately, this semantical argument is gaining traction in the UN, where Russia has endorsed Tehran’s interpretation and effectively vetoed any hope for a punitive response.
This is the kind of weak language that President Obama allowed to be included in the agreement, along with key restrictions that sunset in ten to fifteen years and nuclear site inspections that require up to twenty-four days advance notice to Iran. It appears to have been more important for the President to negotiate a deal than to enforce one. Instead of negotiating a strong and enforceable deal, the administration and its allies in Congress have demonstrated time and again their concern for a political legacy has outweighed U.S. regional interests or the security of Israel. Reagan at Reykjavik this was not.
Back in September, my opponent Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) fell in line and voted for this awful deal: a deal that ultimately strengthens the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. By contrast, I would have joined the large bipartisan New York congressional coalition (including seven Democrats) in opposing this bad deal. Since that vote, Iran conducted ballistic missile tests in October, November and March, each in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions. In January, Nita Lowey (D-NY) and several others drafted a letter to the president warning, “Inaction from the United States would send the misguided message that . . . the international community has lost the willingness to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its support of terrorism and other offensive actions throughout the region . . .” Yet this is exactly the message we have continued to send to both our allies and adversaries.
Instead of facing renewed sanctions, Iran now enjoys access to over $100 billion in previously frozen assets—some of which Secretary of State John Kerry readily admits will be used to fund terrorism—and will result in the existing arms embargo against them lifted within five years. Meanwhile, in the last few months we have seen Iran provoke our allies in Israel and the Gulf, further enmesh itself in Syria and continue development of missile systems in its quest for regional hegemony.
When President Obama defended the Iran deal at American University back in August, he tried to dismiss his critics by touting the strength of the verification process. “The bottom line is,” he said, “if Iran cheats, we can catch them.” It seems now the question at hand is “if Iran cheats, will we act?” If the administration is so unwilling to take action against the overt provocations and hostile rhetoric we have seen, will it do any better when inspections met with delays or disagreements are bogged down in multilateral negotiations? Can we really trust a country that openly flouts international law, aggressively sponsors terrorism and uses the phrase “Death to America” like a campaign slogan, and whose ultimate desire is to “wipe Israel off the face of the earth”?
We can hope a future president will have the strength of leadership to reject this administration’s policy of accommodation towards Iran and instead place the security of America and its allies first. But Congress must be prepared to exercise its constitutional authority to promote our interests as well. To this end, I support Congressman Todd Young’s (R-IN) legislation to establish a select oversight committee, which will “conduct comprehensive oversight and investigate compliance.” I believe this is a crucial first step to ensuring that this and future administrations are accountable for its enforcement. Congress must ensure the provisions for monitoring and verification are strictly observed, until such a time that a better deal can be negotiated. Otherwise, we may be doomed to suffer the consequences of a Washington that abdicates leadership for political expediency.
Phil Oliva is the Republican candidate for Congress in New York’s Eighteenth District.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/U.S. State Department.