Netanyahu Rejects Criticism Over Congress Invite: Israel Must Warn the World About Iran

PM tells ministers that it is his obligation to make every effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons to aim at Israel.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Obama and Netanyahu during the U.S. president's visit in Israel, March 20, 2013.Credit: Bloomberg
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday rejected the criticism leveled against him by officials in the Obama administration and by his own political rivals in Israel over his decision to accept a Republican invitation to address the Congress.

"I will go wherever I am invited to voice Israel's stance on the Iranian issue," Netanyahu told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu told the ministers that world powers were likely in the next few weeks to reach an agreement on Iran that might allow it to remain a nuclear threshold state. "This endangers, first and foremost, the existence of the State of Israel," Netanyahu said. "Iran must not be allowed to advance to an atomic weapon. I am obligated to make every effort to prevent Iran from aquiring a nuclear weapon to aim at Israel."

U.S. Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu to speak before the Congress in March has raised the ire of several political figures.

Senior U.S. officials over the weekend voiced harsh criticism over Netanyahu's decision. In background briefings to U.S. media outlets, administration officials said Netanyahu was “playing politics” at the expense of the U.S.-Israeli strategic relationship.

The Washington Post quoted senior U.S. officials who attacked Netanyahu and Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer. According to a report from Friday, during a two-hour meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday, Dermer did not mention Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to the United States, his planned address to a joint session of the Congress or the public invitation that House Speaker John Boehner was to issue less than a day later.

In Israel, Netanyahu's political rivals also voiced negative responses: Hatnuah chairwoman Tzipi Livni, who is fielding a joint slate with Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog in the March election, said that while the United States was helping Israel with a number of critical issues such as the Palestinians’ request to join the ICC, Netanyahu was sabotaging Israel’s relationship with Washington.

“A responsible prime minister who first thinks of the good of his country’s citizens does not do such a thing,” Livni said, adding, “A responsible prime minister would know to work with the president of the United States — with any president — and protect our most important interests.”