In a few days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the US Congress for the third time. The only other foreign leader to have had that privilege was Winston Churchill. Like Churchill when he first spoke to Congress in December 1941, Netanyahu is taking a risk.
For Churchill the risk was to his life -- he had to make a hazardous transatlantic voyage aboard the battleship HMS Duke of York through stormy, U-boat infested waters. For Netanyahu the risk is to his own political life and to his country's relationship with the United States, given the intense presidential opposition to his speech.
But like Churchill was, Netanyahu is a fighting soldier and, like Churchill, a tough political leader, unafraid to shoulder such risks when so much is at stake. And in both cases, the stakes could not be higher, greater than their own lives, political fortunes or rivalries and affecting not just their own countries and the United States, but the whole of the world.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint session of U.S. Congress on May 24, 2011. (Image source: PBS video screenshot)
There are striking similarities between the objectives of Churchill's speech nearly 75 years ago and Netanyahu's today: both with no less a purpose than to avert global conflagration.
Speaking days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Churchill summarized the course of the war thus far but then concluded with a dramatic appeal to the American people for Anglo-American unity to prevent conflict in the future, reminding them that "twice in a single generation, the catastrophe of world war has fallen upon us."
"Do we not owe it to ourselves, to our children, and to mankind," he asked, "to make sure that these catastrophes do not engulf us for the third time?"
No less profound, and no less far-reaching, will be Netanyahu's appeal for American-Israeli unity in the face of a new danger. A danger perhaps even greater than Churchill was able to comprehend in pre-nuclear 1941. Whereas Churchill spoke of a future, as yet unknown peril, Netanyahu will focus on the clear and present threat to world peace if Iran is allowed to produce nuclear weapons.
And like Churchill in the 1930s, Netanyahu's is a lone voice among world leaders today.
In pursuit of both uranium and plutonium tracks to a bomb, as well as the development of long-range ballistic missiles, there is no doubt about Iran's intent. It has been described as a nuclear Auschwitz.
It is Netanyahu's duty to sound the alarm against such a prospect. It is Israel's survival that is at stake. It is Israel that will have to conduct military intervention if the US will not. And it is Israelis who will die in any subsequent regional conflagration.
But this is not only an existential threat to Israel -- it is a danger to other states in the Middle East and to us all. Doubtful of Western resolve, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey are already investigating the development of their own nuclear capabilities.
An agreement that leaves Iran with the potential to achieve nuclear breakout will trigger a Middle East arms race that will exponentially increase the risks of global nuclear war, a risk multiplied by the vulnerability of regional governments to overthrow by extremists.
Iran's ballistic missile program, inexplicably outside the scope of current P5+1 negotiations, brings Europe into Iran's range, and future development will extend Tehran's nuclear reach to the US. The world's number one sponsor of terrorism, the regime of the ayatollahs would have no qualms about supplying their terrorist proxies with nuclear weapons.
This is the greatest threat the world faces today. Yet all the signals suggest that the P5+1, driven by President Obama's apparent desperation for détente with Tehran, is already set on a path towards 1930s-style appeasement that will end with Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons.
The view that Cold War style containment and mutual deterrence could prevent this apocalyptic, fanatical regime from using its nuclear weapons is dangerously naïve. Yet the Western leaders who seem to be on the verge of reaching an agreement are not naïve. Lacking the moral strength to face down Iran, they see deception and appeasement as the only way out of their dilemma.
To gauge their intentions, we do not need to rely just on frequent Iranian threats, such as those of General Hossein Salami, who said recently, with negotiations still under way: "As long as the US continue to use the Islamic world as the scene for their regional policies, all the forces of the Islamic world will undoubtedly be mobilized against them." In the same interview, he threatened Israel too: "The very existence of the Zionist entity and its collapse are of crucial importance."
Iran's determination to bring about the violent collapse of the "Zionist entity" is continuously manifested in its directing and funding of armed attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians at home and overseas, by proxies including Hizballah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The Gaza conflict last summer, for example, owed much to Iranian funding and weaponry.
Just a few weeks ago, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps General Mohammad Allahadi was operating with senior Hizballah commanders to set up a new front on Syrian territory in the Golan, from which to launch attacks against Israel. He was killed by an Israeli air strike while visiting his planned area of operations.
Israel is not the only target of Iranian violence. Iran has long been making good on its promises to mobilize Islamic forces against the US, as well as the UK and other American allies. Attacks directed and supplied from Tehran killed an estimated 1,100 American troops in Iraq in recent years. Strikes have been facilitated in Afghanistan, killing US, British and other Coalition soldiers.
Iran provided direct support to Al Qaeda in the 9/11 attacks and continues to harbor Al Qaeda terrorists. Between 2010 and 2013, Tehran either ordered or allowed at least three major terrorist plots against the US and Europe to be planned from its soil. Fortunately, all were foiled. Direction, support and facilitation to both Sunni and Shia terrorist groups in planning attacks against the US and its allies continues today.
This vengeful and volatile regime must not in any circumstances be allowed to gain a nuclear weapons capability, whatever the P5+1 states might consider the short-term economic, political or strategic benefits to themselves of a deal with Tehran.
Even before the world's first experience of nuclear bombing in August 1945, Churchill and Roosevelt both understood the dangers of allowing their enemies and potential enemies to acquire such capability. When Allied intelligence identified a Nazi uranium production plant in Oranienburg in eastern Germany, 612 bombers destroyed it in a single raid in March 1945 with 1,506 tons of high explosives and 178 tons of incendiary bombs, to prevent it falling into the hands of advancing Russian troops.
Only a strong stand by the West, and rejection of an agreement that allows development of nuclear weapons, will ensure that such action does not in the future become necessary against Iran. In his 1941 speech to Congress, Churchill reminded the American people that five or six years previously it would have been easy to prevent Germany from rearming without bloodshed. But by then it was too late, and the world was engulfed in unprecedented violence.
It is not yet too late to prevent Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons. The American people, the American government and the West as a whole must heed Netanyahu's clear warning not to reach a deal that will allow the mendacious and malevolent Iranian regime to acquire nuclear weapons. Instead, sanctions that stand a chance of compelling Tehran to abandon its world-threatening ambitions must be maintained, and if necessary, increased.
Colonel Richard Kemp spent most his 30-year career in the British Army commanding front-line troops in fighting terrorism and insurgency in hotspots including Iraq, the Balkans, South Asia and Northern Ireland. He was Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan in 2003. From 2002 - 2006 he heading the international terrorism team at the Joint Intelligence Committee of the British Prime Minister's Office.