TIME Military

Concern Over Iran’s Nukes Drowns Out Its Growing Role in Iraq

Tehran helps Baghdad try to retake Tikrit as U.S. watches

Consternation over Iran boiled Tuesday on Capitol Hill as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Tehran’s push for nuclear weapons “could well threaten the survival of my country.” But over at the Pentagon, the Iran focus wasn’t on Netanyahu but Iraq. That’s because Iran is playing a key role in Baghdad’s fight to retake Tikrit from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, while the U.S. is confined to the sidelines.

After the U.S. invested $26 billion rebuilding the Iraqi army over the past decade, some Pentagon officials found it disconcerting to see Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias leading the charge into Saddam Hussein’s hometown. The Iranians, of course, are relishing the opportunity: Hussein was running Iraq when it launched the eight-year Iran-Iraq war that ended in a stalemate in 1988 with roughly 200,000 killed on each side.

American concern is justified: having Iranian-backed Shi’ite forces storm largely-Sunni Tikrit risks turning the conflict against the Sunni ISIS forces into a sectarian conflict that could balloon into a civil war. “It’s absolutely key that [the Iraqi government] make sure that they have provisions in place to accommodate the Sunnis,” Army General Lloyd Austin, chief of the U.S. Central Command, told the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday. “That lack of inclusion is what got us to this point, and I think the only way that we can ensure that we don’t go back there is if we have the right steps taken by the government.” Fewer than 1,000 of the 30,000 fighters battling ISIS for Tikrit are Sunni tribal fighters, according to Iraqi estimates.

The populations of both Iran and Iraq are primarily Shi’ite. Since Saddam’s hanging in 2006, the Sunnis of western Iraq have been treated poorly by the Shi’ite-dominated government in Baghdad. Many Sunnis welcomed ISIS’s move into the region last year, when it killed more than 1,000 Iraqi Shi’ite troops who had been stationed at a base known, when the Americans were there, as Camp Speicher. Some of the Shi’ites attacking Tikrit are bent on revenge for the slaughter, which could exacerbate intra-Muslim tensions.

Iran, according to reports from the front and Pentagon officials, is backing Iraqi forces with air power, artillery fire and advisers guiding Shi’ite militiamen, who account for perhaps 10,000 of the fighters trying to retake Tikrit. “This is the most overt conduct of Iranian support, in the form of artillery and other things,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told the Senate Armed Services Committee later Tuesday. “Frankly, it will only be a problem if it results in sectarianism.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. — which has conducted thousands of air strikes against ISIS targets since August — has been grounded in the battle to retake Tikrit. The daily U.S. tally of air strikes launched Wednesday ticked off targets around al Asad, Bayji, Mosul, Ramadi and Sinjar. But there were no strikes in or around Tikrit, although U.S. drones are keeping a nervous eye on the fighting (“We have good overhead imagery,” is how Austin put it).

Iran has reportedly dispatched commanders notorious for their killings of Sunnis to the fight. That may lead Tikritis to view those seeking to free their city from ISIS’s grip not as rescuers but as bloody vengeance-seekers.

As the U.S. and Israel work to keep Iran’s nuclear genie bottled up, both Washington and Tehran have said they are not operating together inside Iraq. “We don’t coordinate with them,” Austin, whose command oversees U.S. military forces inside the country, repeated Tuesday.

In other words, they’re allied, but not allies. “The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America,” Netanyahu told Congress on Tuesday. “Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam … They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire.”

TIME

Real TIME: Netanyahu Condemns ‘Bad Deal’ With Iran in Congress Speech

“It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb, it paves Iran’s path to the bomb”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a speech to Congress on Wednesday to address the possible consequences of a nuclear Iran.

Watch #RealTIME to hear what he had to say.

TIME Foreign Policy

Reaction to Netanyahu Speech Divides Along Partisan Lines

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress on Tuesday was exactly what he said he didn’t intend it to be: political.

While many of his points brought both Democrats and Republicans to their feet — “This Capitol dome helped build our Iron Dome” was a clear winner — Democrats stayed seated for the point that mattered most.

“This is a bad deal,” said Netanyahu, of the negotiations by the Obama Administration and five other countries to prevent the Iranian regime from obtaining nuclear weapons. “It’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it.”

There was a clear contrast in Netanyahu’s support from the beginning, when ear-splitting cheers arose for the handshake between House Speaker John Boehner and Netanyahu. In the front row, Illinois GOP Senator Mark Kirk, an Iran hawk, rose to his feet and banged his cane against the ground in approval throughout the speech.

On the key “we’re better off without it” line, GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Senator Joe Lieberman joined the Republicans’ standing ovation in their seats overlooking the chamber. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who ran a 2012 congressional campaign that Adelson backed, said before the speech that it could convince Congressmen to overcome an Obama veto of a controversial Iran sanctions bill.

“I think if the Prime Minister really makes his case, the Kirk-Menendez bill — increasing sanctions against Iran should there not be a deal — could pass,” said Boteach. “They’re close. They almost have enough Senators to override a promised presidential veto and maybe that’s what the Prime Minister is aiming for more than anything else.”

After the speech, foreign policy hawks said that the U.S. should walk away from the negotiating table.

“I thought it was very reasonable,” said Bill Kristol, founder of the Weekly Standard and an attendee of the event. “The world will not end if there’s not a deal and if sanctions are reimposed. The world was chugging along two years ago with sanctions and no deal … As Netanyahu said, as many people have said, If it’s a bad deal, you can’t sign a bad deal. You’re not walking away.”

MORE: Netanyahu’s Speech Tied Him in Knots

During the speech, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was in “near tears.”

“I was near tears throughout the Prime Minister’s speech — saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the P5 +1 nations, and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation,” she said in a statement.

Dozens of Democrats boycotted the speech, which came on Boehner’s invitation without White House consultation and two weeks before Netanyahu’s election.

Even those Democrats who agreed with Netanyahu that the deal is “bad” blasted his speech for lacking a specific plan forward.

“This is a bad deal,” said California Democratic Representative Brad Sherman. “He showed us why this deal is a bad deal. The alternative to a bad deal is we’re in a bad situation. And he did not give us a clear road map to a good deal.”

Read next: Netanyahu Will Be Speaking in Winston Churchill’s Shadow

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Foreign Policy

Iran’s Supreme Leader Just Subtweeted Netanyahu’s Speech

After Netanyahu called him out for past tweets

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called out Iran for tweeting threats to his country during his speech before Congress on Tuesday—so it’s not surprising that Iran responded with a tweet.

“Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei spews the oldest hatred, the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism with the newest technology,” Netanyahu said. “He tweets that Israel must be annihilated—he tweets. You know, in Iran, there isn’t exactly free Internet. But he tweets in English that Israel must be destroyed.”

Two hours later, a Twitter account associated with Khamenei responded with a tweet, or more properly, a subtweet, since it didn’t mention Netanyahu or his speech to Congress:

It’s not the first time the Iranian leader’s account, which has 103,000 followers, has taken a shot at the United States. As TIME reported last year, the Twitter account also accused the United States of “racial discrimination” after a grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., decided not to indict a white police officer who shot and killed a black teenager.

TIME Foreign Policy

A Speech That Fell Short and Tied Netanyahu in Knots

No one sets the table better than Benjamin Netanyahu. With Ehud Barak, his defense minister at the time, the Israeli prime minister pushed the matter of Iran’s nuclear ambitions to the front of the global agenda three years ago by threatening to launch military strikes against Tehran. And he spent the last month or so — while running for re-election back in Israel, no less — stoking the keen, keen anticipation that awaited Tuesday’s joint address to Congress.

By the time he took the rostrum in the House at ten minutes after 11, the drumroll was almost deafening; on Fox News a half hour earlier, the camera was trained on the empty hallway outside the Capitol office of Speaker John Boehner, empty of human traffic but every molecule of air charged.

So perhaps a letdown was inevitable. Going by the speech itself, though, the problem was more that Netanyahu no longer seems entirely certain what he wants, or at least how to put it. He spoke against the agreement that appears to be taking shape between Iran and six world powers, led by the United States. But at one point in the speech he seemed to concede that the agreement would go forward — calling for its final draft to include language that would extend it beyond ten years unless Iran “changes its behavior by the time the agreement expires. If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country,” Netanyahu said.

Nor was it clear whether Netanyahu’s words were backed by the possibility of an Israel military strike, the barely veiled threat that had proved so effective in galvanizing world attention to Iran’s pursuit of the atom. Halfway through the speech, he essentially took the gun off the table by suggesting the next step would be another round of talks: “Now we’re being told, the only alternative to this deal is war,” Netanyahu said. “That’s not true. The alternative to a bad deal is a much better deal!”

Why would that be? It turns out the country that Netanyahu passed almost all of 40 minutes describing as single-mindedly obsessed with achieving nuclear weapons, may, he said, want something else as well: “If Iran threatens to walk away form the deal – and this often happens in a Persian bazaar — call their bluff. Because they need the deal a lot more than you do.”

The observation, puzzling only in the context of the speech, may well be correct. Even before plummeting oil prices delivered another staggering blow to the petroleum exporter, Iran’s economy was crippled by the array of economic sanctions that President Obama rallied world powers to impose on Tehran (operating on the logic that peaceful coercion was better than the military option Israel appeared poised to exercise). The problem is that Israel no longer appears poised to launch air strikes, yet its leader appears trapped in the rhetoric that made the threat of them credible. It’s a binary equation, where Netanyahu reliably offers the negative to whatever the question at hand: warning that sanctions won’t work, then that they must be left in place, that an interim agreement must be avoided lest it become permanent, then that talks continue beyond the March deadline both sides say they want to honor.

MORE: Why Bibi and Barack Can’t Get Along

It’s a rhetorical trope that may or may not become a trap, but certainly becomes predictable, which in speeches may be as bad. As the prime minister’s address wore on, the applause in the chamber appeared to drift into the dutiful.

Only when he turned to the Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel (the Holocaust survivor Netanyahu tried in vain to persuade to run for the largely ceremonial office of Israel’s President) did the response reach the tumult that greeted his March 24, 2011, address, a frankly cocky appearance that cemented Netanyahu’s mastery of The Hill.

The Wiesel introduction came amid the customary expression of defiance — “Never again” — and vow that Israel would protect itself, which Netanyahu immediately walked back with the observation that the United States of course could be counted upon to do the same. Left unsaid, as always, amid the talk of an existential threats is the matter of Israel’s own nuclear arsenal, and its refusal to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that is providing so much leverage against signatory Iran.

Speeches may be what the man does best; Netanyahu cut his teeth in politics as Israel’s videogenic spokesman in America, where he attended high school and college, and Hebrew-speakers say he is every bit as effective in that language. But having assigned himself the mission of derailing the negotiations he had basically set in place, then warned against, then said must continue, Netanyahu had to thread a needle, and could not help ending up in a bit of a snarl.

TIME Foreign Policy

Transcript: Netanyahu Speech to Congress

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Congress Tuesday about the emerging nuclear deal with Iran.

Here is the full transcript:

NETANYAHU: Thank you. (APPLAUSE)

Thank you…

(APPLAUSE)

… Speaker of the House John Boehner, President Pro Tem Senator Orrin Hatch, Senator Minority — Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

I also want to acknowledge Senator, Democratic Leader Harry Reid. Harry, it’s good to see you back on your feet.

(APPLAUSE)

I guess it’s true what they say, you can’t keep a good man down.

(LAUGHTER)

My friends, I’m deeply humbled by the opportunity to speak for a third time before the most important legislative body in the world, the U.S. Congress.(APPLAUSE)

NETANYAHU: I want to thank you all for being here today. I know that my speech has been the subject of much controversy. I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political. That was never my intention.

I want to thank you, Democrats and Republicans, for your common support for Israel, year after year, decade after decade.

(APPLAUSE)

I know that no matter on which side of the aisle you sit, you stand with Israel.

(APPLAUSE)

The remarkable alliance between Israel and the United States has always been above politics. It must always remain above politics.

(APPLAUSE)

Because America and Israel, we share a common destiny, the destiny of promised lands that cherish freedom and offer hope. Israel is grateful for the support of American — of America’s people and of America’s presidents, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.(APPLAUSE)

NETANYAHU: We appreciate all that President Obama has done for Israel.

Now, some of that is widely known.

(APPLAUSE)

Some of that is widely known, like strengthening security cooperation and intelligence sharing, opposing anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N.

Some of what the president has done for Israel is less well- known.

I called him in 2010 when we had the Carmel forest fire, and he immediately agreed to respond to my request for urgent aid.

In 2011, we had our embassy in Cairo under siege, and again, he provided vital assistance at the crucial moment.

Or his support for more missile interceptors during our operation last summer when we took on Hamas terrorists.

(APPLAUSE)

In each of those moments, I called the president, and he was there.

And some of what the president has done for Israel might never be known, because it touches on some of the most sensitive and strategic issues that arise between an American president and an Israeli prime minister.

But I know it, and I will always be grateful to President Obama for that support.(APPLAUSE)

NETANYAHU: And Israel is grateful to you, the American Congress, for your support, for supporting us in so many ways, especially in generous military assistance and missile defense, including Iron Dome.

(APPLAUSE)

Last summer, millions of Israelis were protected from thousands of Hamas rockets because this capital dome helped build our Iron Dome.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you, America. Thank you for everything you’ve done for Israel.

My friends, I’ve come here today because, as prime minister of Israel, I feel a profound obligation to speak to you about an issue that could well threaten the survival of my country and the future of my people: Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.

We’re an ancient people. In our nearly 4,000 years of history, many have tried repeatedly to destroy the Jewish people. Tomorrow night, on the Jewish holiday of Purim, we’ll read the Book of Esther. We’ll read of a powerful Persian viceroy named Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jewish people some 2,500 years ago. But a courageous Jewish woman, Queen Esther, exposed the plot and gave for the Jewish people the right to defend themselves against their enemies.NETANYAHU: The plot was foiled. Our people were saved.

(APPLAUSE)

Today the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei spews the oldest hatred, the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism with the newest technology. He tweets that Israel must be annihilated — he tweets. You know, in Iran, there isn’t exactly free Internet. But he tweets in English that Israel must be destroyed.

For those who believe that Iran threatens the Jewish state, but not the Jewish people, listen to Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, Iran’s chief terrorist proxy. He said: If all the Jews gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of chasing them down around the world.

But Iran’s regime is not merely a Jewish problem, any more than the Nazi regime was merely a Jewish problem. The 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis were but a fraction of the 60 million people killed in World War II. So, too, Iran’s regime poses a grave threat, not only to Israel, but also the peace of the entire world. To understand just how dangerous Iran would be with nuclear weapons, we must fully understand the nature of the regime.

NETANYAHU: The people of Iran are very talented people. They’re heirs to one of the world’s great civilizations. But in 1979, they were hijacked by religious zealots — religious zealots who imposed on them immediately a dark and brutal dictatorship.

That year, the zealots drafted a constitution, a new one for Iran. It directed the revolutionary guards not only to protect Iran’s borders, but also to fulfill the ideological mission of jihad. The regime’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, exhorted his followers to “export the revolution throughout the world.”

I’m standing here in Washington, D.C. and the difference is so stark. America’s founding document promises life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Iran’s founding document pledges death, tyranny, and the pursuit of jihad. And as states are collapsing across the Middle East, Iran is charging into the void to do just that.

Iran’s goons in Gaza, its lackeys in Lebanon, its revolutionary guards on the Golan Heights are clutching Israel with three tentacles of terror. Backed by Iran, Assad is slaughtering Syrians. Back by Iran, Shiite militias are rampaging through Iraq. Back by Iran, Houthis are seizing control of Yemen, threatening the strategic straits at the mouth of the Red Sea. Along with the Straits of Hormuz, that would give Iran a second choke-point on the world’s oil supply.

NETANYAHU: Just last week, near Hormuz, Iran carried out a military exercise blowing up a mock U.S. aircraft carrier. That’s just last week, while they’re having nuclear talks with the United States. But unfortunately, for the last 36 years, Iran’s attacks against the United States have been anything but mock. And the targets have been all too real.

Iran took dozens of Americans hostage in Tehran, murdered hundreds of American soldiers, Marines, in Beirut, and was responsible for killing and maiming thousands of American service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Beyond the Middle East, Iran attacks America and its allies through its global terror network. It blew up the Jewish community center and the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. It helped Al Qaida bomb U.S. embassies in Africa. It even attempted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, right here in Washington, D.C.

In the Middle East, Iran now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. And if Iran’s aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow.

So, at a time when many hope that Iran will join the community of nations, Iran is busy gobbling up the nations.

(APPLAUSE)

We must all stand together to stop Iran’s march of conquest, subjugation and terror.

(APPLAUSE)

Now, two years ago, we were told to give President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif a chance to bring change and moderation to Iran. Some change! Some moderation!NETANYAHU: Rouhani’s government hangs gays, persecutes Christians, jails journalists and executes even more prisoners than before.

Last year, the same Zarif who charms Western diplomats laid a wreath at the grave of Imad Mughniyeh. Imad Mughniyeh is the terrorist mastermind who spilled more American blood than any other terrorist besides Osama bin Laden. I’d like to see someone ask him a question about that.

Iran’s regime is as radical as ever, its cries of “Death to America,” that same America that it calls the “Great Satan,” as loud as ever.

Now, this shouldn’t be surprising, because the ideology of Iran’s revolutionary regime is deeply rooted in militant Islam, and that’s why this regime will always be an enemy of America.

Don’t be fooled. The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America.

Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam. One calls itself the Islamic Republic. The other calls itself the Islamic State. Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire first on the region and then on the entire world. They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire.

In this deadly game of thrones, there’s no place for America or for Israel, no peace for Christians, Jews or Muslims who don’t share the Islamist medieval creed, no rights for women, no freedom for anyone.NETANYAHU: So when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.

(APPLAUSE)

The difference is that ISIS is armed with butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube, whereas Iran could soon be armed with intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs. We must always remember — I’ll say it one more time — the greatest dangers facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons. To defeat ISIS and let Iran get nuclear weapons would be to win the battle, but lose the war. We can’t let that happen.

(APPLAUSE)

But that, my friends, is exactly what could happen, if the deal now being negotiated is accepted by Iran. That deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons, lots of them.

Let me explain why. While the final deal has not yet been signed, certain elements of any potential deal are now a matter of public record. You don’t need intelligence agencies and secret information to know this. You can Google it.

NETANYAHU: Absent a dramatic change, we know for sure that any deal with Iran will include two major concessions to Iran.

The first major concession would leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure, providing it with a short break-out time to the bomb. Break-out time is the time it takes to amass enough weapons-grade uranium or plutonium for a nuclear bomb.

According to the deal, not a single nuclear facility would be demolished. Thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium would be left spinning. Thousands more would be temporarily disconnected, but not destroyed.

Because Iran’s nuclear program would be left largely intact, Iran’s break-out time would be very short — about a year by U.S. assessment, even shorter by Israel’s.

And if — if Iran’s work on advanced centrifuges, faster and faster centrifuges, is not stopped, that break-out time could still be shorter, a lot shorter.

True, certain restrictions would be imposed on Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s adherence to those restrictions would be supervised by international inspectors. But here’s the problem. You see, inspectors document violations; they don’t stop them.

Inspectors knew when North Korea broke to the bomb, but that didn’t stop anything. North Korea turned off the cameras, kicked out the inspectors. Within a few years, it got the bomb.

Now, we’re warned that within five years North Korea could have an arsenal of 100 nuclear bombs.

Like North Korea, Iran, too, has defied international inspectors. It’s done that on at least three separate occasions — 2005, 2006, 2010. Like North Korea, Iran broke the locks, shut off the cameras.

NETANYAHU: Now, I know this is not gonna come a shock — as a shock to any of you, but Iran not only defies inspectors, it also plays a pretty good game of hide-and-cheat with them.

The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, said again yesterday that Iran still refuses to come clean about its military nuclear program. Iran was also caught — caught twice, not once, twice — operating secret nuclear facilities in Natanz and Qom, facilities that inspectors didn’t even know existed.

Right now, Iran could be hiding nuclear facilities that we don’t know about, the U.S. and Israel. As the former head of inspections for the IAEA said in 2013, he said, “If there’s no undeclared installation today in Iran, it will be the first time in 20 years that it doesn’t have one.” Iran has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted. And that’s why the first major concession is a source of great concern. It leaves Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and relies on inspectors to prevent a breakout. That concession creates a real danger that Iran could get to the bomb by violating the deal.

But the second major concession creates an even greater danger that Iran could get to the bomb by keeping the deal. Because virtually all the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program will automatically expire in about a decade.

NETANYAHU: Now, a decade may seem like a long time in political life, but it’s the blink of an eye in the life of a nation. It’s a blink of an eye in the life of our children. We all have a responsibility to consider what will happen when Iran’s nuclear capabilities are virtually unrestricted and all the sanctions will have been lifted. Iran would then be free to build a huge nuclear capacity that could product many, many nuclear bombs.

Iran’s Supreme Leader says that openly. He says, Iran plans to have 190,000 centrifuges, not 6,000 or even the 19,000 that Iran has today, but 10 times that amount — 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium. With this massive capacity, Iran could make the fuel for an entire nuclear arsenal and this in a matter of weeks, once it makes that decision.

My long-time friend, John Kerry, Secretary of State, confirmed last week that Iran could legitimately possess that massive centrifuge capacity when the deal expires.

Now I want you to think about that. The foremost sponsor of global terrorism could be weeks away from having enough enriched uranium for an entire arsenal of nuclear weapons and this with full international legitimacy.

And by the way, if Iran’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missile program is not part of the deal, and so far, Iran refuses to even put it on the negotiating table. Well, Iran could have the means to deliver that nuclear arsenal to the far-reach corners of the Earth, including to every part of the United States.

NETANYAHU: So you see, my friends, this deal has two major concessions: one, leaving Iran with a vast nuclear program and two, lifting the restrictions on that program in about a decade. That’s why this deal is so bad. It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb; it paves Iran’s path to the bomb.

So why would anyone make this deal? Because they hope that Iran will change for the better in the coming years, or they believe that the alternative to this deal is worse?

Well, I disagree. I don’t believe that Iran’s radical regime will change for the better after this deal. This regime has been in power for 36 years, and its voracious appetite for aggression grows with each passing year. This deal would wet appetite — would only wet Iran’s appetite for more.

Would Iran be less aggressive when sanctions are removed and its economy is stronger? If Iran is gobbling up four countries right now while it’s under sanctions, how many more countries will Iran devour when sanctions are lifted? Would Iran fund less terrorism when it has mountains of cash with which to fund more terrorism?

Why should Iran’s radical regime change for the better when it can enjoy the best of both world’s: aggression abroad, prosperity at home?

This is a question that everyone asks in our region. Israel’s neighbors — Iran’s neighbors know that Iran will become even more aggressive and sponsor even more terrorism when its economy is unshackled and it’s been given a clear path to the bomb.

NETANYAHU: And many of these neighbors say they’ll respond by racing to get nuclear weapons of their own. So this deal won’t change Iran for the better; it will only change the Middle East for the worse. A deal that’s supposed to prevent nuclear proliferation would instead spark a nuclear arms race in the most dangerous part of the planet.

This deal won’t be a farewell to arms. It would be a farewell to arms control. And the Middle East would soon be crisscrossed by nuclear tripwires. A region where small skirmishes can trigger big wars would turn into a nuclear tinderbox.

If anyone thinks — if anyone thinks this deal kicks the can down the road, think again. When we get down that road, we’ll face a much more dangerous Iran, a Middle East littered with nuclear bombs and a countdown to a potential nuclear nightmare.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve come here today to tell you we don’t have to bet the security of the world on the hope that Iran will change for the better. We don’t have to gamble with our future and with our children’s future.

We can insist that restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program not be lifted for as long as Iran continues its aggression in the region and in the world.(APPLAUSE)

NETANYAHU: Before lifting those restrictions, the world should demand that Iran do three things. First, stop its aggression against its neighbors in the Middle East. Second…

(APPLAUSE)

Second, stop supporting terrorism around the world.

(APPLAUSE)

And third, stop threatening to annihilate my country, Israel, the one and only Jewish state.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you.

If the world powers are not prepared to insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal is signed, at the very least they should insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal expires.

(APPLAUSE)

If Iran changes its behavior, the restrictions would be lifted. If Iran doesn’t change its behavior, the restrictions should not be lifted.

(APPLAUSE)

If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country.(APPLAUSE)

NETANYAHU: My friends, what about the argument that there’s no alternative to this deal, that Iran’s nuclear know-how cannot be erased, that its nuclear program is so advanced that the best we can do is delay the inevitable, which is essentially what the proposed deal seeks to do?

Well, nuclear know-how without nuclear infrastructure doesn’t get you very much. A racecar driver without a car can’t drive. A pilot without a plan can’t fly. Without thousands of centrifuges, tons of enriched uranium or heavy water facilities, Iran can’t make nuclear weapons.

(APPLAUSE)

Iran’s nuclear program can be rolled back well-beyond the current proposal by insisting on a better deal and keeping up the pressure on a very vulnerable regime, especially given the recent collapse in the price of oil.

(APPLAUSE)

Now, if Iran threatens to walk away from the table — and this often happens in a Persian bazaar — call their bluff. They’ll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do.

(APPLAUSE)

And by maintaining the pressure on Iran and on those who do business with Iran, you have the power to make them need it even more.NETANYAHU: My friends, for over a year, we’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, this is a bad deal. It’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it.

(APPLAUSE)

Now we’re being told that the only alternative to this bad deal is war. That’s just not true.

The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal.

(APPLAUSE)

A better deal that doesn’t leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and such a short break-out time. A better deal that keeps the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in place until Iran’s aggression ends.

(APPLAUSE)

A better deal that won’t give Iran an easy path to the bomb. A better deal that Israel and its neighbors may not like, but with which we could live, literally. And no country…

(APPLAUSE)

… no country has a greater stake — no country has a greater stake than Israel in a good deal that peacefully removes this threat.

Ladies and gentlemen, history has placed us at a fateful crossroads. We must now choose between two paths. One path leads to a bad deal that will at best curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions for a while, but it will inexorably lead to a nuclear-armed Iran whose unbridled aggression will inevitably lead to war.NETANYAHU: The second path, however difficult, could lead to a much better deal, that would prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, a nuclearized Middle East and the horrific consequences of both to all of humanity.

You don’t have to read Robert Frost to know. You have to live life to know that the difficult path is usually the one less traveled, but it will make all the difference for the future of my country, the security of the Middle East and the peace of the world, the peace, we all desire.

(APPLAUSE)

My friend, standing up to Iran is not easy. Standing up to dark and murderous regimes never is. With us today is Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel.(APPLAUSE)

NETANYAHU: Elie, your life and work inspires to give meaning to the words, “never again.”

(APPLAUSE)

And I wish I could promise you, Elie, that the lessons of history have been learned. I can only urge the leaders of the world not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

(APPLAUSE)

Not to sacrifice the future for the present; not to ignore aggression in the hopes of gaining an illusory peace.

But I can guarantee you this, the days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over.(APPLAUSE)

NETANYAHU: We are no longer scattered among the nations, powerless to defend ourselves. We restored our sovereignty in our ancient home. And the soldiers who defend our home have boundless courage. For the first time in 100 generations, we, the Jewish people, can defend ourselves.

(APPLAUSE)

This is why — this is why, as a prime minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.

(APPLAUSE)

But I know that Israel does not stand alone. I know that America stands with Israel.

(APPLAUSE)

I know that you stand with Israel.

(APPLAUSE)

You stand with Israel, because you know that the story of Israel is not only the story of the Jewish people but of the human spirit that refuses again and again to succumb to history’s horrors.

(APPLAUSE)

Facing me right up there in the gallery, overlooking all of us in this (inaudible) chamber is the image of Moses. Moses led our people from slavery to the gates of the Promised Land.

NETANYAHU: And before the people of Israel entered the land of Israel, Moses gave us a message that has steeled our resolve for thousands of years. I leave you with his message today, (SPEAKING IN HEBREW), “Be strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them.”

My friends, may Israel and America always stand together, strong and resolute. May we neither fear nor dread the challenges ahead. May we face the future with confidence, strength and hope.

May God bless the state of Israel and may God bless the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you all.

You’re wonderful.

Thank you, America. Thank you.

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

END

Read next: Israel is Left Divided By Netanyahu Address to Congress

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TIME Foreign Policy

Here’s the Sculpture of Moses That Netanyahu Referenced

Architect of the Capitol

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dropped a lot of names during his speech to Congress: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Secretary of State John Kerry, Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, even poet Robert Frost.

But for the close he went for an obvious pick: Moses.

“Facing me right up there in the gallery, overlooking all of us … is the image of Moses,” he said. “Moses led our people from slavery to the gates of the Promised Land.”

He then quoted Deuteronomy 31:6, Moses’ parting words to the Israelites, in Hebrew: “Be strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them.”

Netanyahu was referencing a marble relief that has hung in the House chamber since 1950, just two years after the modern state of Israel was founded. The bas relief was sculpted of white Vermont marble by artist Jean de Marco, according to the Architect of the Capitol.

It’s part of a series of 23 portraits chosen to represent historical figures who established the legal principles underlying the American system of government. Moses is in the center, facing forward, with 11 portraits on either side facing right and left toward him.

Other portraits include Hammurabi, Pope Gregory IX and Thomas Jefferson.

TIME Foreign Policy

Netanyahu Tells Congress Iran Deal ‘Paves Path to a Bomb’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted the emerging nuclear agreement with Iran Tuesday in an address to a joint meeting of Congress, saying the deal to prevent the regime from obtaining nuclear weapons would have the opposite result.

Addressing a spirited Congress in the House chamber, Netanyahu warned the P5+1 nuclear deal “could well threaten the survival of my country and the future of my people,” encouraging lawmakers to oppose the agreement being negotiated by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

“It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb, it paves Iran’s path to the bomb,” Netanyahu said, saying it would only embolden the Iranian government. “That deal will not prevent Iran from nuclear weapons, it would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons — lots of them.”

“This is a bad deal,” he added. “It’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it.”

Netanyahu’s speech was repeatedly punctuated by applause and standing ovations, often bringing both Democrats and Republicans to their feet. The image and the speech was a thumb in the eye to Obama, who was not consulted before Netanyahu was invited to address lawmakers and who sees the potential agreement a capstone to his legacy in office. National Security Adviser Susan Rice even called Netanyahu’s visit “destructive” to the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The speech fell just two weeks before Netanyahu stands for re-election in a close race at home, shading the speech with elements of his domestic politics as much American divisions.

The Israeli leader said he didn’t intend his visit to become the partisan lightning rod it had become and praised Obama’s commitment to Israel, including record levels of security assistance under his Administration. “I know that my speech has been the subject of much controversy,” he said. “I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political. That was never my intention.”

But Netanyahu did not pull any punches in outlining why he believes Obama is on the wrong path, painting a picture of a Middle East engaged in a furious nuclear arms race. “This deal won’t be a farewell to arms,” he said. “It would be a farewell to arms control. And the Middle East would soon be crisscrossed by nuclear tripwires. A region where small skirmishes can trigger big wars would turn into a nuclear tinder box.”

MORE: Why Bibi and Barack Can’t Get Along

Netanyahu raised objection that the emerging deal does not lengthen the so-called breakout time — the time it would take Iran to construct a nuclear weapon — and that it would lift sanctions on the country without requiring it to stop funding terrorist groups like Hizballah.

“Would Iran be less aggressive when sanctions are removed and its economy is stronger?” he asked. “If Iran is gobbling up four countries right now while it’s under sanctions, how many more countries will Iran devour when sanctions are lifted? Would Iran fund less terrorism when it has mountains of cash with which to fund more terrorism? Why should Iran’s radical regime change for the better when it can enjoy the best of both world’s: aggression abroad, prosperity at home?”

Netanyahu rejected the notion that the alternative to a deal is war, as Obama allies have maintained. “The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal,” he said. But he offered no path toward a deal that Iran would agree to, other than calling for the continuation of global sanctions, until Iran halts funding terror and aggressive actions against its neighbors, and stops calling for the destruction of the state of Israel.

“If Iran threatens to walk away from the table, and this often happens in a Persian bazaar, call their bluff,” he said. “They’ll be back. They need a deal a lot more than you do.”

TIME Congress

Israeli Prime Minister Speech Draws Big Names

Israeli PM Netanyahu Addresses Joint Meeting Of Congress
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is greeted by members of Congress as he arrives to speak during a joint meeting of the United States Congress in the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC.

As many as 50 Democrats may be missing the speech, but Republicans have packed the house

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress felt a bit like a State of the Union.

Despite the partisan contention around the speech which led as many as 53 Democratic lawmakers to skip the speech, it proved popular with Republicans, former lawmakers and interested citizens, according to reporters tweeting at the event.

It was a hot ticket. Speaker John Boehner’s office said there were 10 times as many requests for tickets as there were seats available in the gallery.

Some former lawmakers seen on Capitol Hill Tuesday include former Speaker Newt Gingrich, former representative and current MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, former representative and current Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Reps. Michele Bachmann and Dennis Kucinich and former Sens. Joe Lieberman and Norm Coleman.

The event drew some big names in conservative circles. Casino magnate and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, Weekly Standard founder William Kristol, conservative radio host Mark Levin, Republican political consultant Frank Luntz and attorney Alan Dershowitz were also spotted by reporters inside the Capitol.

The speech drew interest from outside politics too. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and Entertainment Tonight host Mary Hart.

TIME politics

Netanyahu Will Be Speaking in Winston Churchill’s Shadow

Netanyahu is only the second foreign leader to address Congress three times

A leader of a close U.S. ally arrives in Washington to speak before Congress for his third time, as relations between the two countries begin to fray.

That was British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in January 1952, making what TIME then called a “cautiously billed” visit to the United States to attempt to restore the close ties that had carried the U.S. and Britain through World War II.

The same description might also work for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who addresses Congress on Tuesday, becoming only the second foreign leader to address Congress three times. The close relationship between Israel and the U.S. has been buffeted by Israeli policies in the West Bank (opposed by the White House) and by U.S.-led negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program (opposed by Netanyahu). Now, Netanyahu is hoping to convince Washington to see eye-to-eye with him on Iran’s nuclear program.

Netanyahu has already been compared to Churchill by Republicans in Congress. “There is a reason that the adjective most often applied to Prime Minister Netanyahu with respect to Iran is Churchillian,” said Senator Ted Cruz on Monday. House Speaker John Boehner said he plans to give Netanyahu a bust of Churchill.

Here’s how Churchill handled the situation:

In 1952, the post-war state of affairs had brought with it a new set of grievances between Washington and London. What approach should be taken toward Communist China? Would the U.S. support British influence in the Middle East? Would Britain allow the U.S. to use bases in England for nuclear-armed flights against Russia? “But above all else was the fact that, in the time of her own financial and foreign-affairs crises, Britain had somehow lost touch with the U.S.,” TIME wrote in the Jan. 14, 1952 issue.

Still, Churchill faced a friendlier environment than Netanyahu might on Tuesday. While the Prime Minister did not share the same bond with President Truman that he had with Truman’s predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, he was warmly received in Congress and he met personally with Truman. (Obama has declined to meet with Netanyahu, citing concern about influencing upcoming elections in Israel.)

In an article in the Jan. 28, 1952 issue, TIME reported on his entrance into the chamber: “The great man, bearing his 77 history laden years with impassive dignity, walked slowly through the standing, clapping U.S. Congressmen. He had aged, of course, but Winston Churchill seemed hardly a shade less pink-cheeked, rocklike and John Bullish than when he spoke before the House and Senate during World War II.”

One of those speeches had been given nine years earlier, on May 19, 1943, when Churchill had spoken to Congress to provide a confident report on wartime progress and to pledge Britain’s support in the fight against Japan. It was “not one of Churchill’s greatest speeches,” TIME reported, “though any other orator might well have envied it.” The bar had been set high by his first appearance, on Dec. 26, 1941, when Churchill arrived in Washington to rally a disheartened nation that was still reeling from the Pearl Harbor attack three weeks earlier.

Wrote TIME:

Churchill arrived like a breath of fresh air, giving Washington new vigor, for he came as a new hero. Churchill—like Franklin Roosevelt, not above criticism at home —is, like Franklin Roosevelt in Britain, a man of unsullied popularity in his ally’s country…. There were tears in Winnie Churchill’s eyes at the ovation which greeted him, from isolationist and interventionist Congressmen alike. He shoved his thick, hornrimmed glasses over his nose, blinked, balanced himself like an old sailor. With a sly grin, he made his joke, established himself as one of the boys.

Then he let go: eloquence, blunt, polished and effective as an old knobkerrie, the growling, galling scorn for his enemies, the passages of noble purple for his friends. Between bursts of applause in which Supreme Court Justices and diplomats joined as lustily as doormen, the galleries wondered whether ever before had such a moving and eloquent speech been made on the Senate floor. Actually it was not so much the speech as the personality that put it over.

Though Churchill’s third speech was received less “lustily,” Netanyahu, who previously spoke to Congress in 1996 and 2011, might learn from the British Prime Minister’s performance that day. Despite the circumstances, and despite not accomplishing all his aims, Churchill’s visit in 1952 ultimately proved helpful.

“In spite of the very serious failure to make progress on Middle East policy,” TIME observed, “the Churchill visit was a success; it reversed the Anglo-American drift away from unity.”

Read TIME’s story about Churchill’s first speech to Congress: The U.S. at War; Great Decisions

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