Washington – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a packed house today at the annual gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC live video can be seen here.) in Washington. He told the pro Israel group that the proposed deal the Obama administration is negotiating with Iran is a threat to Israel’s security.
“Iran is the foremost state sponsor of terrorism in the world,” he said, as he warned against Iran “developing” a nuclear weapon. As prime minister, I have a moral obligation to speak up in the face of these dangers while there is still time to avert them.”
“My speech is not intended to show any disrespect to President Obama or the esteemed office that he holds,” Mr. Netanyahu told the estimated 16,000 people gathered here. “I have great respect for both.”
He added: “The last thing anyone who cares about Israel, the last thing that I would want, is for Israel to become a partisan issue, and I regret that some people have misperceived my visit here this week as doing that. Israel has always been a bipartisan issue. Israel should always remain a bipartisan issue.”
Clearly the Prime Minister was seeking to soften the rift between himself and President Obama over Netanyahu’s Tuesday morning speech to a joint session of Congress. The PM is aware of the issue of protocol caused by his invitation to address Congress by the leader of the political opposition, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who negotiated the visit with the Israelis without notifying the White House until plans had been made final.
Netanyahu, however, declared that he had a “moral obligation to speak up in the face of these dangers” from Iran “while there is still time to avert them.”
“For 2,000 years my people, the Jewish people, were stateless, defenseless, voiceless,” he said. “We were utterly powerless against our enemies who swore to destroy us.” Now, he said, Israelis have a voice. “I plan to use that voice.”
At the same time, he sought to rebut critics in the U.S. and in Israel who say his highly public campaign against the Obama administration’s Iran diplomacy has undermined the U.S.-Israeli relationship.
“Disagreements in the family are always uncomfortable,” he said. “But we always must remember we are family. Our alliance is sound. Our friendship is strong. “
The Prime Minister was preceded by Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who said the political dispute should not cloud the goals the U.S. and Israel share. She was treated respectfully by the audience.
“The United States of America will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, period,” Power said. She said the diplomatic talks with Iran are “aimed centrally at denying Iran a nuclear weapon.”
“The U.S. will take whatever steps are necessary to protect our national security and that of our closest allies,” Power said. “We believe diplomacy is the preferred route.”
Meanwhile, Netanyahu will face a more skeptical audience on Tuesday, his speech Monday was punctuated with enthusiastic applause and multiple standing ovations from an auditorium packed with thousands of pro-Israel activists, business leaders and others in town for the annual AIPAC policy conference.
Netanyahu is expected to use his Tuesday speech to lay out what he believes are the emerging contours of a deal with Iran and warn Congress against accepting a bad deal, and to push for tougher sanctions.
Last week top White House officials warned the way it’s been handled has damaged ties between the two nations. President Obama has declined to meet with Netanyahu during his visit, and will not be attending the speech.