Netanyahu: Congress Speech Not Meant to Disrespect Obama

Watch AIPAC conference live; Samantha Power says 'U.S. will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. Period.'

Chemi Shalev
Barak Ravid
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Chemi Shalev
Barak Ravid

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said that his speech before Congress is not meant to disrespect U.S. President Barack Obama. In a speech delivered to the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC in Washington, he said that the last thing he wants is to make Israel a partisan issue.

Borrowing from Mark Twain, Netanyahu declared before the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby conference on Monday that "reports of the demise of Israeli-U.S. relations is not only premature, they're just wrong."

Referring to his controversial planned speech to Congress this week, Netanyahu quipped, "never has so much been written about a speech that hasn't been given."

Netanyahu made it clear he did not intend to discuss the content of that planned speech but rather its purpose. Moreover, he stressed what he did not intend to do by coming to Washington to speak against a possible nuclear deal with Iran.

"It is not to show any disrespect for Obama or the esteemed office that he holds. I have great respect for both," said Netanyahu. "I deeply appreciate all that President Obama has done for Israel," he said, referring to security cooperation and intelligence sharing between the two countries as well as American support for Israel at the United Nations.

"My speech is also not intended to inject Israel into the American partisan debate. An important reason why our alliance has grown stronger is that it has been championed by both parties, and so it must remain," he said. "Both Democratic and Republican presidents have worked together with friends from both sides of the aisle in Congress to strengthen our alliance, and working together they have provided Israel with generous assistance."

Netanyahu said he regretted that some people have misperceived as making Israel a partisan issue."

Rather, stated Netanyahu, "the purpose of my address tomorrow is to speak up about a potential deal with Iran that could threaten the survival of Israel." He called Iran the "foremost" state sponsor of terrorism and provided a map showing Iran's "tentacles" of terror across five continents.

"This is what Iran is doing without nuclear weapons," he said. "Imagine what it would do with nuclear weapons." That threat is the reason why Israel "must not let that happen."

Netanyahu then asserted his "moral obligation to speak up in the face of these dangers while there's still time to avert them." He explained that Jews had been "stateless, defenseless, voiceless" in the face of mortal dangers by those who swore to destroy the Jewish people for 2000 years.

"Well no more," he declared. "The days when the Jewish people are passive in the threat of violence, those days are over."

Referring to his upcoming speech, he stated, "Today we have a voice and tomorrow as prime minister of the one and only Jewish state I plan to use that voice."

Netanyahu played down the public disagreement between Israel and the United States, stressing that such disputes are "only natural" because there are "important differences between Israel and the U.S." He described America as the one of the biggest countries, the most powerful one in the world living in a safe neighborhood concerned about its well-being. In contrast, Israel is one of the world's smallest countries, living in the world's most dangerous neighborhood, strong yet vulnerable and constantly worried about is very existence.

Yet, he stressed, despite differences dating back to 1948, when David Ben-Gurion declared independence against American advice, through the 1967 war, Israel's attack on Iraq and Israel's invasion of Palestinian areas in 2002, the friendship "grew stronger and stronger, decade after decade." Netanyahu predicted that "our friendship will weather the current disagreement to grow even stronger in the future because the "similarities are much stronger than the differences that divideus."

Samantha Power: 'U.S. will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. Period.'

Workers prepare the stage at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, March 2, 2015.Credit: Reuters

Earlier on Monday, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, boasted of America's record in not only defending Israel in the international arena and fighting anti-Semitismm but also in getting Israel a seat at the table of various international bodies.

Netanyahu in Washington timetable

Speaking at the AIPAC conference She also emphasized America's commitment to preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons, with or without a deal, although she noted that "diplomacy is the preferred route" to secure American aims.

"U.S. will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon," she said. "Period." She added that Obama will "keep his commitment whether talks with Iran collapse or an agreement is reached."

At the same time, Power did not ignore recent tensions between the United States and Israel over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's planned anti-Iran speech to Congress this week.

"You may have heard of tension in Israel-U.S. relations," she said. "Let me separate politics and policy. The U.S.-Israel relationship transcends politics, and it always will." She also stressed that the "U.S.-Israel partnership should never be politicized" because "the stake are too high for politicizing the relationship with Israel."

As for Israel's security, she stated, "There will never be a sunset on U.S. commitment to the security of Israel," eliciting a round of applause from the audience.

The public dispute between the Israeli and U.S. governments regarding the developing agreement with Iran is shifting into higher gear Monday at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference in Washington, DC.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will follow Power, when he is expected to not only address Israeli-American relations but also take initial shots at the brewing nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries – the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Great Britain.

The public confrontation will peak in the afternoon when Reuters publishes its interview with President Obama, in which he is expected to present his version of the nuclear deal and try to torpedo Netanyahu's assertions.

On Monday evening Washington time, Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, will address the AIPAC convention and also defend the developing deal.

Related links:

Senior official on Netanyahu's plane: Congress must be made aware of Iran deal concessions >> Barak Ravid

With AIPAC fete as backdrop, the Obama-Netanyahu faceoff begins >> Chemi Shalev

Obama is Netanyahu’s greatest political asset >> Anshel Pfeffer

Israel has more to worry about than Iran's nuclear program >> Amos Harel

Bennett at AIPAC: Iran deal an 'unmitigated disaster' of historic proportions >> Jonathan Lis

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