Herzog: Even After Netanyahu's Speech, Israel Is Still Isolated

Opposition leader says PM's Congress address only harms effort to stop Iran; Bennett: Herzog and Livni should back Netanyahu.

Ilan Assayag

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech before Congress on Tuesday, saying that despite the impressive rhetoric, his words did not slow Iran's quest for nuclear weapons.

Speaking in a southern community not far from the Gaza border, Herzog, who is seeking to unseat Netanyahu in the March 17 Knesset elections, told the audience that their problems worry him no less than the Iranian nuclear threat.

"Netanyahu knows how to deliver a speech," he said, "but [his] speech did not put a halt to a nuclear agreement and didn't influence it." Herzog added: "No Israeli leader will countenance a nuclear Iran."

Herzog also addressed the Israel-U.S. relations following the speech. "The painful truth is that after the applause, Netanyahu was left alone," he said. "Israel was left isolated. And the negotiations with Iran will continue without any Israeli involvement. This speech badly damaged U.S.-Israel relations. It won’t change the administration's stance but will only widen the rift with our greatest friend and strategic ally."

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett of the right-leaning Habayit Hayehudi party was among those praising Netanyahu's remarks. "The Israeli people stand behind you," he wrote on his Facebook page. Bennett, who joined Netanyahu's visit, attacked those criticizing the speech, accusing Herzog, Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid of targeting the prime minister in what he said was "such a critical moment."

"They should have been standing behind him to show American politicians that this issue is crossing party lines," he said.

MK Yariv Levin, who heads the Knesset Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, said that in his speech Netanyahu "clarified what we’ve known for a long time – a nuclear Iran is a real threat to Israel’s existence." He said that "members of U.S. Congress showed Livni and Herzog today what responsibility means, what it means to support a nation’s leader while he is fighting for the country’s future."

Minister Yisrael Katz also backed Netanyahu. “We witnessed a serious speech tonight, well-argued and convincing The Prime Minister very clearly explained to the world what the danger is in having a nuclear Iran. There, at the center of the world, we saw widespread support for Israel and for Netanyahu’s message."

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said following the speech: “Despite all the gloomy forecasts the Prime Minister of Israel was received with warmth by a full plenum in a joint session of the Senate and House, eliciting rousing applause. Most importantly, he clarified the danger of the Iranian threat for Israel and the world. I hope this will be a turning point regarding and future deal with Iran."

Lambasting the speech, Meretz leader Zehava Galon called it "a mendacious intimidating speech," saying that Netanyahu has nothing to offer, to Israel or the world: "he can’t propose anything positive, no plan of action. All he does is say how what others do is not good enough, while he remains passive and negative. He’s turned himself into the grouchy old man of international diplomacy. And now, after this speech I’m even more convinced that he’s irrelevant. He won’t attack Iran; he’s a coward and knows no one in Israel wants war. He is no longer a factor in reaching a deal with Iran. I hope he soon becomes irrelevant in Israeli politics as well.”

The Joint List also criticized Netanyahu. “The contents of his speech illustrate that he didn’t present anything new, continuing to say the same things while preaching to the world – he has no message other than intimidation and threats "The speech shows yet again how dangerous Netanyahu is, capable of embarking on dangerous adventures. The applause in the Congress could turn into tears lasting for generations.”