Tag Archives: Iran Sanctions

Will Trump’s Iran Sanctions be Weaker than Obama’s?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

The intelligence community’s rationale for allowing Iran to remain part of SWIFT is that it allows them to track Iran’s finances internationally.

Last spring President Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal (JCPOA). He re-imposed sanctions on the revolutionary Islamist regime that had previously been given tens of billions of dollars in economic relief and was reintegrated within the international banking community. The sanctions come into full effect on November 4.

President Trump has been unwavering in his criticism of the JCPOA, claiming the deal didn’t deliver any of its promised benefits – moderating Iran’s expansionist ambitions, restraining its missile development or terrorist sponsorship, improving its human rights record – while it continued threatening American allies in the region.

But is it possible that members of the president’s own administration could convince him to soften the impact of the re-imposition of sanctions on Iran? Surprisingly, the answer is yes.

Much has to do with an internal fight within the administration between the intelligence community and Treasury on one side, and National Security Adviser John Bolton on the other.

The Treasury and the intelligence community are advocating for leniency on Iran and its European partners by allowing Iran to remain a part of the SWIFT international banking system, which allows Iranian banks to seamlessly exchange funds across the globe.

That the international community would even allow the world’s leading state sponsor of terror to be accepted in good standing in the world economic community is another story – one of naiveté, avarice and appeasement.

Bolstering Bolton on the other side are Trump’s years-long statements about imposing maximum economic pressure on Iran to create conditions for a better deal. Sixteen senators this summer warned Treasury about the dangers of excluding SWIFT sanctions.

Which brings us back to whether President Trump will re-impose a softer version of Obama-era sanctions on Iran by not incorporating SWIFT.

According to the Washington Free Beacon, “During the Obama era, SWIFT disconnected Iran due to sanctions threats… SWIFT leaders were in DC last week holding meetings with Trump administration officials to ensure that Iran retains access to the international banking system,” strengthening the Iranian economy and their European trading partners.

The intelligence community’s rationale for allowing Iran to remain part of SWIFT is that it allows them to track Iran’s finances internationally, providing vital intelligence, and if SWIFT is sanctioned it would weaken their ability to follow other bad international actors like Russian oligarchs.

This is not a strong argument, as Iran’s most egregious transactions will not enter the transparent SWIFT system. Iran and Hezbollah fuel the American opioid epidemic with a billion dollars a year of money-laundered profits that are outside the SWIFT system. In addition, as long as SWIFT only blocks transactions with Iran, the intelligence agencies can continue to monitor all other worldwide transactions.

WITH IRAN’S economy already reeling, some critics of re-imposing SWIFT sanctions fear Iran could become more dangerous and unpredictable, with claims that it could impede the flow of oil, gas and commerce in both Bab-el-Mandeb and the Strait of Hormuz, at the entrance to the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, respectively.

Iranian-supported Yemeni Houthis have already attacked two Saudi tankers this year in Bab-el-Mandeb. However, China’s dependence on Iranian oil transported through the Strait of Hormuz, combined with Iran’s desire to strengthen relations with China, make that threat less likely.

But the most challenging threat against imposing SWIFT sanctions is from President Trump’s own Treasury Department under Steve Mnuchin, which is working overtime to help Iran remain in SWIFT. Mr. Mnuchin’s perspective is shaped by his Wall Street background, which sees any interference in global trading systems as a threat to the worldwide economic order, especially with the Europeans not on board this time around. They argue that Iran’s economy is already in tatters and that SWIFT sanctions would cause more harm than good.

The reality is that if Iran is allowed to remain in SWIFT, the much-promised maximum economic sanctions of the Trump presidency will be a hollow threat. If the goal is to further starve the Iranian economy – making its support of worldwide terrorism, hidden nuclear activities, human rights abuses, and missile development more painful to continue – then the benefit of including SWIFT outweighs the arguments against including SWIFT transactions.

According to Josh Rogin in The Washington Post, “There’s another great argument for cutting Iranian banks off SWIFT: It would hamper Iran’s ability to finance the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas… SWIFT’s own bylaws require it to prevent illegal financial activities – such as funding terrorism.”

Before the Iran agreement was implemented there was bipartisan consensus on imposing sanctions on Iran for its clandestine nuclear program.
However, after the agreement went into effect in 2016, any new sanctions on Iran were treated as a direct threat to president Obama’s legacy achievement, despite the administration’s promise that all non-nuclear sanctions were on the table. The issue has unfortunately become a political one, not what it should be, a discussion of what is in America’s best interest.

This month America unveiled its first new counter-terrorism report in seven years. Tops on the list was the Iranian threat. America’s national security interest is to rein in Iran. Without including SWIFT, that interest is undermined.
As President Trump’s Iran envoy Brian Hook said, “If talking to Iran kindly worked, we wouldn’t be in this position… we need to restore deterrence.”

The writer is the director of the Middle East Political Information Network (MEPIN) and regularly briefs members of the Senate and House and their foreign policy advisers. 

The Importance of Secondary Sanctions to Rein in Iran

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

There is a lack of understanding of what secondary sanctions are, why they are an indispensable tool for advancing diplomacy in the Middle East and what the true nature of the Iran agreement is. 

As we approach President Trump’s self-imposed deadline to end secondary sanction waivers on Iranian compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it has become clear that amid all the hyper-partisan rhetoric, there is a lack of understanding of what secondary sanctions are, why they are an indispensable tool for advancing American diplomacy in the Middle East and what the true nature of the Iran agreement is.

Before we dive into sanctions, it is necessary to understand what the agreement actually entails. According to former secretary of state John Kerry, “We’ve been clear from the beginning: We’re not negotiating a ‘legally binding plan.’”

During a recent NPR interview, the State Department’s policy planning director, Brian Hook, disabused anyone from believing the agreement is a sacrosanct document. The “JCPOA is not a treaty… it’s not an executive agreement. It has no signatures. It has no legal status.”

Which brings us to sanctions. Sanctions are a non-military, diplomatic tool to put pressure on international entities, nations and persons which undermine American national security interests. They are targeted against nations and entities that participate in things like narco-terrorism, or undermine American interests by seeking to acquire nuclear, biologic or chemical weapons. America’s use of sanctions has been an integral part of its strategy to contain Iranian nuclear weapons capabilities, as well as other malign behaviors.

Primary sanctions target only American companies and individuals who would do business with sanctioned entities. Whereas the goal of secondary sanctions is to target non-American businesses and individuals who would otherwise trade with regimes that defy American national security interests. This is all the more important after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on his inaugural Middle East trip this week called for new Iranian sanctions. Meanwhile, the European Union, led by Italy, refuses to reinstate or add any meaningful non-nuclear related sanctions. President Obama invited the Europeans to resume lucrative business with Iran, and they don’t want to stop.
The goal of secondary sanctions is to penalize non-US companies and persons who commercially transact with Iran by limiting their access to the American financial network and economy.

As Ole Moehr said, writing for the Atlantic Council, “Secondary sanctions amplify [the effect] of primary sanctions… [They] put pressure on third parties to stop their activities with the sanctioned country by threatening to cut off the third party’s access to the sanctioning country.” The JCPOA affected only secondary sanction waivers regarding Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Since the summer of 2015 when the JCPOA was agreed to, there has been underwhelming enforcement of sanctions that were not waived as part of the agreement.

THIS IS in part because the international community and American supporters of the Iran deal have claimed that significant enforcement of non-nuclear secondary sanctions is really a subterfuge to scuttle the JCPOA. According to The Wall Street Journal, the State Department has been trying but has been unable to convince the international community to sanction even those entities that are obviously associated with Iran’s missile program.

During the Obama administration, the United States deferred to the United Nations and to members of the UN Security Council, in effect allowing China and Russia to undermine American interests by the power of their veto. President Obama’s Wilsonian view of the world turned a blind eye to the 21st-century reality of global Shi’ite Islamic hegemonic aspirations and to Iran’s religiously sanctioned deception (taqiyya). As a result, the chance for future Middle Eastern wars has only increased, the exact opposite of the international community’s goal for stability.

If America judges its foreign policy interests are being undermined by international organizations – particularly the UN and EU – it must act independently to take charge with its own targeted secondary sanctions. As the world’s economic leader, other nations will be forced to comply with the US or lose access to its financial system.

My conversations with former Treasury Department officials have clearly indicated that without the implementation and enforcement of secondary sanctions against foreign businesses and countries transacting with Iran, America will be spinning its wheels. This is true only in regard to nuclear proliferation, but also regarding the reining in of Iran’s organization, training and funding of terrorist proxies, missile development and human rights abuses.

Congress was promised that the US waivers of secondary sanctions in the JCPOA were to be related only to the Iranian nuclear program. In reality what happened is we have allowed the JCPOA to hold hostage the imposition of legitimate and promised sanctions for Iran’s other offensive in-our-face hostile acts.

The Trump administration now has the opportunity to fix the JCPOA, using the leverage of non-nuclear secondary sanctions. The “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” signed last August by President Trump was a good start, but it is not enough.

The Iranian economy is on the ropes. Enforced secondary sanctions on companies doing business with Iran can have a real impact on Iran’s footprint in Syria; affect its support of Hezbollah and Hamas; curtail its missile development; and bring it back to the table to fix the flaws in the JCPOA. Among those flaws are getting rid of the agreement’s sunset provisions and obtaining effective access to Iran’s weapons development sites.

The writer is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™ who regularly briefs members of Congress on the Middle East and a contributor to ‘The Jerusalem Post,’ The Hill and ‘The Forward.’

It’s Time for the US to Swap Carrots for Sticks in the Middle East

America’s choices in the Middle East continue to challenge the best of our foreign policy experts. There are no easy answers in a region with ever-changing interests and alliances, but one tool to consider for advancing American interests is the use of “consequences” against those who deliberately stick a finger in our eye. This is necessary with four regional players: Iran, Turkey, the Palestinians and Qatar.

Iran

The case of Iran is instructive in the power of consequences, and it is a timely assessment since America must plan for the day when President Trump truly decertifies the Iran nuclear agreement. Supporters of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action believe new sanctions on Iran, even for non-nuclear transgressions, will destroy the deal. In the carrot-and-stick approach, they would continue to try to tame the Islamic Republic of Iran with more carrots.

But the JCPOA is not a treaty; we can amend it. Those who disagree with the idea of placating the Iranian government instead favor imposing sanctions for ballistic missile development, terrorism, human rights abuses and ethnic cleansing under the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Syria and Iraq.

When serious economic sanctions were placed on the revolutionary regime before 2015, to punish Iran for its nuclear program, Iran’s economy and its currency dose-dived. Those sanctions brought Iran to the table, and the removal of those economic consequences with the front-ended largesse of tens of billions of dollars, brought the opposite response: an emboldened Iran.

We also should consider consequences for European allies, such as Germany, who refuse to help the United States because they profit from new Iranian business ventures. Such consequences could begin with a public campaign to embarrass Germany for cavorting with a regime that has been complicit in helping Syria President Bashar al-Assad commit genocide. When push comes to shove, I bet Germany chooses the $17 trillion American economy over the third-rate Iranian economy.

Turkey

Once a rock-solid NATO ally, Turkey has become, at best, a “frenemy.” NATO’s former supreme commander, Adm. James Stavridis, writing in Time, suggests a cooperative relationship to advance our interests in Syria: “U.S. policy in Syria rests on the U.S. and Turkey working together. The problem is that the U.S. relied on the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces. … We need to consider a Turkish security zone. … This is a NATO border that we are sworn by treaty to protect.”

But Stavridis is advocating for a secular Turkish ally that doesn’t exist anymore. Over the past 14 years, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has transformed his nation, replacing its secular military and judiciary with Islamists while imprisoning or exiling moderates and pro-Western democrats. So we must ask: is Turkey in 2018 a reliable and indispensable NATO ally?

Repairing U.S. relations with Turkey is important, but it needs to be on our terms, not those that Erdoğan dictates. Adversaries such as Iran, Syria, Russia and China are closely watching how we respond to his provocations. No doubt America would like to keep its air base in Incirlik, but even here Turkey has threatened America. Last year, says former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman, there were “several attempts to impress upon the United States that Incirlik could be cut off at any time.”

As Washington continues to try to reconcile the American-Turkish relationship with carrots, not sticks, I am reminded of an old friend’s words: “In this part of the world, you cannot placate your enemies.” Critics believe that consequences will just push Turkey closer to Iran and Russia. But Turkey knows that both these countries, in the long term, are adversaries and, prodded with sticks, Erdoğan might turn back toward the West.

Palestinian Authority

The United States is trying such consequences in another part of the Levant. After years of offering carrots to the Palestinians, Congress and the Trump administration have decided to decrease financial aid to the Palestinian Authority unless it stops rewarding terrorists and suicide bombers’ families with American taxpayer dollars.

President Trump also imposed consequences by decreasing funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, a humanitarian organization for Palestinian refugees that has allowed Hamas to work from its facilities. Congress, under the leadership of Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), has been advancing the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, legislation that will have consequences on those who boycott our ally Israel.

Qatar

Another supporter of American adversaries, Qatar deserves consequences for associating with Iran, harboring terrorist entities, and supporting radical jihadists. Qatar’s defenders claim the American air base Udeid in Qatar is irreplaceable, but that is not necessarily true; there is an advanced base in Saudi Arabia that was used in the early 2000s.

Some believe that if America offers enough incentives to problematic Middle East states such as these four, they will reciprocate. But typically, they perceive our concessions as weakness. The better tool to reduce the chances of war is to impose economic consequences through sanctions, and to target the finances of people, companies, banks or states that support terrorism.

Offering carrots has failed, so why not try brandishing some sticks?

Eric R. Mandel is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network. He regularly briefs members of Congress and policy groups on the Middle East and is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.

Legitimizing Iran: The US Administration’s Middle East Agenda

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post.)

The time is now for Congress to act, to assert its constitutional responsibility regarding foreign policy in the name of American national security interests.

 ‘There’s a reason Tehran is under financial quarantine. The intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering…. said it was ‘exceptionally concerned about Iran’s failure to address the risk of terrorist financing.’”
– Wall Street Journal editorial

Last year, while lobbying the American people to support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, President Barack Obama repeatedly reassured undecided members of Congress that the deal was only about ending the Iranian nuclear program.

Current sanctions for Iranian human rights abuses and support of terrorism, i.e. Hezbollah and Hamas, would not only remain in place, but be strictly adhered to, as new sanctions would be considered without regard to the JCPOA.

The president’s overarching strategy since 2009 has been trying to find ways to strengthen Iran, legitimize the revolutionary republic, and bring it into the family of nations. To fit this square Iranian peg in the round hole of nations that abide by civilized norms, the administration ignored the relentless attacks of Ayatollah Khamenei, such as, “The power-hungry order led by the United States of America is the perfectly clear embodiment of ‘the concept of the enemy.’ America has no human morality.” The White House TV was off the day of Iran’s “End of America” week, featuring cries of “Death to America.”

The president has said “Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism,” and then acts as though it weren’t true.

Talking the talk on Iran but never walking the walk, never putting teeth to his rhetorical flourishes. It must be remembered that the president was against implementing congressional sanctions on Iran back in 2010, but only embraced them when he realized he couldn’t overrule them with executive action. He then got the last laugh, when he waived many of the important sanction provisions.

Now an even more dangerous violation of the administration’s commitments on Iran is taking place behind closed doors and at breakneck speed, to purposely bypass congressional oversight. The president and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew are preparing to contradict the secretary’s 2015 testimony to Congress during the debate on the JCPOA, when he told the Corker/Cardin Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “Iranian banks will not be able to clear US dollars through New York,” or “hold correspondent account relationships with US financial institutions, or enter into financing arrangements with US banks.”

The Treasury’s chief of sanctions, Adam Szubin, told Congress Iran will not “even [be able] to execute a dollarized transaction where a split second’s worth of business is done in a New York clearing bank.”

As Mark Dubowitz and Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies wrote, “the Obama administration vowed that the Islamic Republic would never get the ultimate prize: access to the US financial system or dollar transactions.”

The administration is trying to get around the current US Treasury restrictions and avoid congressional oversight by creating “offshore dollar clearing houses for Iranian financial institutions,” this according to The Wall Street Journal. How can this be when at the present time, “The Treasury Department designates Iran’s entire financial system as a ‘primary money laundering concern’”? Why is the administration doing this? According to the Wall Street Journal, “Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has stressed in recent weeks the need for the U.S. to comply with the ‘letter and spirit’ of the nuclear agreement and help Iran gain economic relief.”

The most likely explanation is that the ayatollah threatened to walk away from the nuclear agreement if Iran didn’t receive access to the American financial system. It has a willing accomplice in Secretary of State John Kerry, who seems blinded by his own dreams of legacy and desire for a Nobel peace prize.

Just as the administration has rationalized Iranian transgressions of the JCPOA and UNSC 2231, its supposed companion document, it is expected that the administration will come up with a new list of reasons why Iran deserves this financial access. It will begin by telling the American people that this is actually a way for America to better monitor Iran’s financial transgressions.

Nonsense.

This is not naiveté, but a carefully thought-out strategy to legitimize Iran, as a counterbalance to the Sunni world. Unfortunately these acts of appeasement have had the opposite effect, emboldening Iran to ask for more and more concessions, even as the ink is not still dry on the JCPOA. Well, not literally – there is no ink; this agreement was never signed by Iran.

The administration has shown a complete lack of understanding of the nature of the Iranian Revolutionary Regime, and how this regime negotiates.

Iran has correctly interpreted the administration’s zero response to its recent in-your-face violations as one party, Obama, wanting to sustain the JCPOA more than the other, Iran. It has made Iran more intransigent, and just increased their demands. That is how we come to be discussing letting the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism into the American financial system.

Just to review, below is a small sampling of what the administration has ignored just since last summer, so as not to endanger the JCPOA:
• Ignoring UNSC 2231, forbidding Iran to work on ballistic missile development for eight years
• Ignoring UNSC 1929, banning Iran from conducting ballistic missile tests
• Allowing the Parchin military site to be sanitized
• Ignoring Iranian missiles fired within 1,400 meters of a US aircraft carrier
• Ignoring Iran publicizing photos of American sailors being humiliated following capture
• Ignoring the proposed Russian sale to Iran of Sukhoi Su-30s, MIG-35s, T-90 battle tanks, S-300 surface to air missiles, and amphibious vehicles
• Allowing the release of Hamid Arabnejad, who supplied weapons to Hezbollah and the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad Congress has to act fast if there is to be any chance of slowing or thwarting the president’s unilateral actions on allowing Iran into our financial system.

One of the most principled members of Congress, Democratic Representative Grace Meng of New York, who was one of the first Democrats to come out against the JCPOA, was troubled by the news stories of the new Iranian access to the American financial system.

She wrote to Secretary Kerry, asking, “Is the administration considering permitting Iranian banks to clear financial transactions by utilizing US dollars?
1. Is this true?
2. In the past year, how many Iranian banks have offered financial support of any kind to Hamas?
3. To Hezbollah?
4. To any other designated terrorist organization?
5. What is the name of each bank covered by your response to questions two through four?” Hopefully other Democratic and Republican members of Congress will follow the lead of Congresswoman Meng and Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer who is also troubled by this dangerous revelation.

As a Wall Street Journal editorial stated, “[E]ven in the post-nuclear deal world, Iran continues to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars and arms to Hezbollah, Hamas, the Afghan Taliban and other groups with American blood on their hands… President Obama insisted that he would ‘vigorously’ enforce sanctions on Iran for supporting terrorism.”

The time is now for Congress to act, to assert its constitutional responsibility regarding foreign policy in the name of American national security interests. Keep Iran out of the American financial system.

The author is the director of MEPIN™. MEPIN™ (mepinanalysis.org) is read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset and journalists.

He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

The US-Israel Relationship: Senate Retreat on the Iran Sanctions

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)
Israel is an important factor, but not the primary reason for this legislation.

I recently returned from two days of meetings and briefings with Congress, discussing the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act of 2015, co-sponsored by Senator Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey).

The legislation should be viewed as Congress’ attempt to restore its Constitutional obligation to affect American foreign policy. President Barack Obama vehemently disagrees. His foreign policy advisor, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, said that the Iranian negotiation is strictly an “executive prerogative to conclude agreements… (and does not) require formal Congressional approval.” In response, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), expressed disappointment: “What the administration is saying [is] we really don’t want Congress to play a role in one of the most important geopolitical agreements that may take place during this administration.”

Just a few weeks ago, it appeared that there was a wave of bipartisan support for legislation that would impose sanctions only if the administration missed its third deadline to conclude a deal with Iran. The White House claimed that any such legislation would chase Iran from the negotiating table. Warmongers, they said, were leading the legislation.

Congress has good reason to distrust the administration on Iran because Obama broke his promise to work with Congress to re-impose sanctions if the July 2013 deadline passed. That deadline was extended, as was the November 2013 deadline. Congress has also been very wary, as the White House promised to halt further Iranian nuclear development in the Joint Plan of Action. There have been no American consequences for Iranian duplicity on centrifuges, plutonium, missile development or oil exports. The White House promised that any cheating would trigger sanctions.

Congress is still waiting.

Is this legislation a good policy? Yes. Is it perfect? No. However, if it were strengthened, it would not garner enough bipartisan support now or when it is supposed to be resurrected for the March deadline.

When a president stakes out an unambiguous position in his State of the Union address and promises to veto any responsive legislation, Congressional options to protect American national security interests become limited. Make no mistake about this: this is primarily about American foreign policy interests.

Israel is an important factor, but not the primary reason for this legislation.

As a reminder, a bad nuclear deal with Iran allows them to be perceived as a nuclear threshold state at the time of their choosing. That will only embolden the theocratic anti-American regime, and undermine American national security interests. America’s Sunni Arab allies, i.e. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt, will inevitably respond by creating their own nuclear arsenals, which the US will be powerless to stop. The chance that one of these Sunni states could fall in a coup to radicals with Islamic State (IS) ideology is a definite possibility. It is also true that non-state Islamist actors, such as IS, Hezbollah, Hamas and Boko Haram, will have a greater chance of acquiring a nuclear device in this environment. All because we signed a bad deal with Iran.

The administration seems to have decided that a nuclear deal with Iran is the best way forward to gain Iranian support to stabilize Syria and Iraq.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

How can we trust this administration’s judgment on Iran when a year ago they told the American people that IS was an insignificant force, i.e. the “Jayvee team” of Islamic terrorists? We would become a partner to the genocidal dictator of Syria, whom we should be helping to remove, not support.

The president seems to believe that IS is our primary threat, and that as vile as Syrian President Bashar Assad is, he is a force for stability. So that would mean that the leader of the free world is aligning with Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror. Please, Mr. President, say it isn’t so.

The fight between Congress and the White House over the Iran legislation has strained the already contentious relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The president and his allies have warned that pro-Israel support for this legislation will harm the US-Israel relationship.

Mr. President, please get over your personal animosity to the Israeli prime minister, and please stop your advisors from continuing ad hominem attacks against the democratically elected leader of an irreplaceable ally for American strategic and intelligence interests in the region. Furthermore, it is not representative of the strong support of the American people for the Jewish state.

The current Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015 legislation is a case study of the tension that exists in Washington between good policy and politics.

Based on policy alone, many Democratic senators may want to support the Kirk-Menendez Iran legislation, but the president has made their choice one of politics over policy.

In response to the president’s ultimatum in the State of the Union speech, House Speaker John Boehner invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress on the issue. This was certainly a poke in the eye to the president.

Of course, every opposition party that wants to defeat the prime minister has used the president’s threats as proof that Netanyahu is personally destroying the US-Israel relationship. The anti-Israel groups have also piled on.

But it is hypocritical of Obama to say it is inappropriate for the Israeli leader to accept an invitation from Congress to speak about his nation’s fears regarding Iran, but still ask the British prime minister to lobby Democratic senators not to vote for the Kirk-Menendez legislation.

The president certainly would like Netanyahu’s party to lose in the next election.

However, the president’s actions may actually help the Likud. In a liberal democracy, more times than not the people will respond to attacks against their own leader with support, rather than distance. Obama’s instantaneous refusal to meet with Netanyahu when he visits the US in March will more likely help rather than hurt Likud’s chances to form the next government.

The president desperately wants this deal to be his foreign policy legacy. The Iranians know that. They also realize that, despite threats to the contrary, the US twice has extended the talks instead of imposing sanctions. The Iranians are also fully aware that the president misled the American people in his State of the Union speech when he said the Iranian nuclear program has been halted during the talks. Facts betray the presidential rhetoric. Since the Joint Plan of Action was signed in November 2013, the Iranians continue to build out the plutonium plant at Arak, develop advanced centrifuges like the IR-8, and produce enough 3.5% uranium for two bombs. Missile development to deliver a nuclear device went on unabated.

The Kirk-Menendez legislation would only re-impose sanctions if this third deadline were missed. Sanctions helped bring the Iranians to the table. Today’s low price of oil, which has burdened the Iranian economy, should be America’s leverage. Yet, the Iranians are calling the shots, with the president’s team begging for a deal. However, a bad deal will haunt America for decades.

That is why the Kirk-Menendez bill is important. Congress should pass it as soon as the March 24th deadline passes.

The author is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisors, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders.