Published in Athens Views (print – no longer in circulation) on 3 March 2014
Disregarding the US President, Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, gave a speech to the Congress after an invitation by John Boehner, the House speaker. Netanyahu’s speech came after John Boehner ignored the White House and invited Netanyahu for a speech in the Congress during his re-election running bid in the forthcoming elections in Israel.
Netanyahu’s entrance to the House was overwhelming even though his speech was boycotted by many Democrats – including Nancy Pelosi, the House’s minority speaker as a long-time supporter of Israel. Although Netanyahu’s speech under the circumstances it took place was controversial enough, what followed can only be described as ‘the Republican’s midnight dream.’ The Israeli Prime Minister was engaged in an anti-Iranian rant in a period that is very crucial for the US-led nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic.
Netanyahu’s speech is filled with what everyone would expect and so much more. It’s filled with Nazi comparisons, ISIS, global terrorism, and North Korea. That is everything (but Russia) that scares American citizens when it comes to foreign threats. Plus some ancient drama.
There are a few points from his long speech that stand out:
“[A] powerful Persian viceroy named Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jewish people”
Emphasising on the book of Esther, Netanyahu points out that from the ancient times Iran wanted the destruction of the Jewish people. Even more so now that the country is an Islamic Republic with a religious leader who does not stand firm on his public rhetoric against Israel.
“Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei spews the oldest hatred, the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism with the newest technology. He tweets that Israel must be annihilated.”
By pointing out historical hatred as well as Khamenei’s tweets, the Israeli PM makes the first step on emphasising the danger Iran poses for Israel – an ancient hatred that is well embedded in today’s leaders.
“The foremost sponsor of global terrorism”
From Gaza, Lebanon to Yemen’s Houthi’s, Iran is a supporter of global terrorist networks. The emphasis on Iran’s support to terrorist groups is not coincidental. Netanyahu wants to give more emphasis on the fact that although Iran is against ISIS, it supports major terrorist organisations in the Middle East. That means that by agreeing to a nuclear deal with Iran, the USA (meaning the Obama administration) would potentially turn a blind eye to global terrorism. In addition signing a deal with Iran and lifting several economic restrictions, Iran could gain access to more oil supplies due to its terrorist connections.
“Backed by Iran, Assad is slaughtering Syrians. Backed by Iran, Shiite militias are rampaging through Iraq. Backed by Iran, Houthis are seizing control of Yemen, threatening the strategic straits at the mouth of the Red Sea. Along with the Straits of Hormuz, that would give Iran a second choke-point on the world’s oil supply.”
“The enemy of your enemy is your enemy”
Netanyahu knows what concerns Americans more than anything else concerning foreign affairs – that is not Ukraine, that is not Iran, it is not even the Palestinian issue that the Obama administration focused much of its attention – it is ISIS. By pointing out Iran’s vow to stop ISIS, the Israeli PM manages to emphasise that ISIS is not even as dangerous as Iran. ISIS is just a group that can be managed over time. If Iran manages to get nuclear weapons, it will be more dangerous than ISIS. According to Netanyahu Iran’s nuclear could lead to the destruction of the region because as soon as Iran manages to get its hands on nuclear weapons, it will not hesitate to start a nuclear war.
“Don’t be fooled. The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America. The difference is that ISIS is armed with butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube, whereas Iran could soon be armed with intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs”
“Iran broke the locks, shut off the cameras.”
North Korea is one of the countries that acquired nuclear weapons under the nose of Western powers and while a member of non-proliferation treaties. According to the Israeli Prime Minister, Iran does the same. As North Korea remains a top priority for US policy, Netanyahu does not miss the chance to make comparisons as Iran has a proven record of hiding nuclear locations.
“Like North Korea, Iran, too, has defied international inspectors. Now, I know this is not going to come as a shock to any of you, but Iran not only defies inspectors it also plays a pretty good game of hide-and-cheat with them.”
“Iran’s regime poses a grave threat”
Netanyahu did not miss the chance to compare Iran with the Nazi atrocities during WWII. This is actually the way the Israeli PM’s political arguments begin and end. Regardless the political arguments, Benjamin Netanyahu makes the absurd comparison to Nazi Germany in a first and last attempt to over-emphasise Iran’s threat to international security.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s rhetoric is dangerous. It is dangerous for the US – Israeli relations and it is dangerous because it offers no alternatives. Netanyahu appeared in full House, gave an anti-Iranian rant but was cheered like no other. The fact that Netanyahu ignored Obama’s tactic not to meet with leaders while they are in running for elections makes the administration’s relationship with Israel even tenser. Netanyahu spoke to the House as if he was teaching the US administration the dangers of a nuclear Iran. As Nancy Pelosi described the speech as “an insult to “the intelligence of the United States” and an insult it was. Netanyahu’s arrogant style can certainly make the relationship between the two countries tenser than it already is. The Obama administration is definitely not willing to allow Netanyahu destroy a potential deal with Iran as such a deal is a top priority for the its foreign policy agenda.
However, his speech had not political alternatives, it merely had political arguments. It was a pre-electoral speech carefully written in order to help boost the Prime Minister’s popularity. Netanyahu’s speech was clearly a political game – a game that knows how to play well. The fact that he is the only foreign leader to speak to the House of Representatives for the third time since Winston Churchill was at his advantage as it shows in his home country that he is considered a well-respected politician. Additionally his harsh rhetoric makes him seem as a strong leader who is not willing to back down and has audacity to challenge US politics in their court. But Netanyahu is also – as Jon Stewart described him – the leader the Republican Party would want to have as a president. An arrogant man with a strong and dangerous rhetoric that would bring votes but would lose points in the international arena.