For his appearance before the U.S. Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a gift. The Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, presented him with a bust of Winston Churchill, the only other politician to have been invited three times to speak in front of the U.S. Congress and the man who at the time was the only one to take a stand against the growing threat of National Socialism: a historical comparison very much to Netanyahu’s taste.
Through and through historical was the speech of the Prime Minister, who seeks reelection for a fourth term in two weeks. With his acceptance of Boehner’s invitation, Netanyahu triggered an unprecedented crisis in the relations between Israel and the U.S. He had to take the opportunity, he said, to warn about the bad deal that was being simultaneously negotiated in Geneva between the members of the UN Security Council along with Germany and Iran.
Bibi said he was grateful for the historical support of the United States, stressed the similarities of both countries, compared the current negotiations with Iran with the preamble to the Second World War, drew parallels between the Holocaust in Europe (the Buchenwald survivor and Nobel prizewinner Elie Wiesel was invited as a witness and sat next to Netanyahu’s wife, Sara) and the impending nuclear holocaust in the Middle East, and compared Israel’s current foe, the Ayatollah Khamenei, with the biblical Jew-hater Haman: both Persian.
Alternate deal: no deal
Netanyahu’s outspoken gratitude towards the U.S. President for the security cooperation and the military and diplomatic support could not ultimately obscure his fundamental dissent: Obama’s government – he had stressed the day before in a Reuters interview – believes that the best way to prevent an Iranian bomb is a negotiated settlement. Netanyahu is convinced of the opposite.
From his perspective, the proposed compromise was a “bad deal”: It wouldn’t shut off Iran’s way to a bomb, but better prepare it, explained Bibi. The rest of his speech was textbook, accompanied by standing ovations from the Republicans: Teheran sponsors international terrorism and destabilizes the region either directly or indirectly through proxies, the Ayatollahs want to wipe out the U.S. and Israel, and the regime is a threat to world peace, no better than the so-called Islamic State, in fact it’s equally evil.
For the Israeli the alternative to a potential deal: no deal. He failed to mention that Iran, in case of failed talks (and tougher sanctions) might also pursue its nuclear ambition with more resolve. Netanyahu called on Teheran for total capitulation, and he did not describe what sort of compromise his government would be willing to accept.
He emphasized that the Jewish people can defend themselves. But he did not add that they are dependent on the help of the U.S.: the support of that government he has continually antagonized.
The damage to his country is likely to be enormous, specifically if support for Israel in the next two years – until the end of Obama’s term of office – becomes a bone of contention between Democrats and Republicans. U.S. Jews had even warned of the Congress show in full-page newspaper ads.
Whether or not this speech was at least worthwhile for Benjamin Netanyahu in the short term, we will know on March 17th, when Israel casts its vote.
_Translated from German by Ben Hill_