The burgeoning agreement between the major world powers and Iran over the latter’s nuclear aspirations currently being drafted is a “bad” deal that will lead to a nuclear Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, to thunderous applause.
“If the deal now being negotiated is accepted by Iran, that deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons – it will all but guarantee that Iran will get those nuclear weapons – lots of them,” he said.
“This is a bad deal,” Netanyahu said, “we’re better off without it.” The agreement “would not be a farewell to arms,” he added, “it would be a farewell to arms control.”
Iran and its leaders are a danger not only to Israel and the Middle East, but also to nations worldwide, Netanyahu warned, and called for unified global action over Iran’s nuclear program.
It is not true that the only alternative to this “bad deal” with Iran is war, he said, the real alternative is “a better deal.”
The agreement, he said, does not block Iran’s path to the bomb, it paves Iran’s path to the bomb.
“Iran’s regime poses a grave threat, not only to Israel but also to the peace of the entire world,” he said. “We must all stand together to stop Iran’s march of conquest, subjugation and terror.”
“Iran has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted,” no matter what it says about permitting verification of the terms of any accord designed to prevent it from getting such weapons, the prime minister said.
“The greatest danger facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons,” he warned.
The prime minister also accused Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of anti-Semitism, saying he “spews the oldest hate, with the newest technology.”
Netanyahu also warned that fighting the Islamic State group should not detract from efforts to stymie Iran’s nuclear aspirations.
“To defeat ISIS but let Iran get nuclear weapons would be to win the battle but lose the war,” he said.
The prime minister received the first of multiple standing ovations as he made his way to the podium for the address that has been boycotted by dozens of Democratic lawmakers and threatened to create a permanent crack in the long solid US-Israel ties.
“I know that my speech has been the subject of much controversy,” Netanyahu said in his opening remarks. “I regret that some people perceive my being here as political. That was never my intention.”
The prime minister paid tribute to US support for Israel, in particular its military assistance.
“Last summer, millions of Israelis were protected from thousands of Hamas rockets because this Capitol dome helped build our Iron Dome,” he said, to thunderous applause.
Niceties over, Netanyahu turned to the central issue of his speech, drawing a comparison between the antagonist of the upcoming Jewish holiday of Purim and the Iranian supreme leader.
“Today, the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us,” he said.
Netanyahu’s address Monday to the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), however, centered on the fissures in the bilateral relationship, with the prime minister repeating the mantra that a disagreement on one issue does not translate to a permanent rift.
The announcement of the speech caused outrage, as the invitation to Netanyahu from Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner had not been cleared by the White House, and in fact had apparently deliberately been kept from the Obama administration. A prime concern, and the reason cited by Barack Obama for not meeting with the prime minister, is the looming elections in Israel, and Netanyahu has been accused of using the speech to bolster his own and his Likud party’s chances in the vote.
In Israel, the Central Elections Committee ruled last month that televised broadcasts of the speech had to have a five-minute delay, so that any electioneering by the prime minister could be removed.
Boehner said Tuesday he expected a capacity crowd to hear the speech and played down any divisions. “America’s bond with Israel is stronger than the politics of the moment,” he said in a video message.
It was unclear if Obama would watch the speech. The White House scheduled an 11:30 am EST video conference with European leaders on the Ukraine crisis.
The White House is wary of Netanyahu using the forum to lay bare the closed-door negotiations designed to curb Iran’s nuclear drive.
On Monday, Obama appeared to wave off any prospect that the bedrock US alliance with Israel might be ruined by the rancor.
“I don’t think it’s permanently destructive,” Obama told Reuters in an interview. “I think that it is a distraction from what should be our focus. And our focus should be, ‘How do we stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?'”
Departing Sunday for the United States, Netanyahu called his visit an “historic mission”.
“I feel that I am the emissary of all Israelis, even those who disagree with me, of the entire Jewish People,” he said. “I am deeply and genuinely concerned for the security of all Israelis, for the fate of the nation, and for the fate of our people and I will do my utmost to ensure our future.”