WASHINGTON — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted Monday that despite recent differences with the Obama administration over a looming nuclear deal with Iran the alliance between his country and the Unites States was “stronger than ever.”
Kicking off a charged visit to Washington that has sparked criticism both in the U.S. and Israel, Netanyahu told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that “reports of the demise of the Israeli-U.S. relationship are not just premature, they are just wrong.”
The centerpiece of his trip is an address to Congress Tuesday, which came at the invitation of congressional Republicans and was not co-ordinated with the White House. As a result, Netanyahu’s already tense relationship with President Barack Obama reached a new low and included some of the harshest attacks against him to date.
The Israeli leader is deeply suspicious of Obama’s efforts to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran, fearing the U.S. and its negotiating partners are prepared to leave Tehran on the cusp of developing a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu stressed he would speak clearly before Congress about the threat a nuclear Iran would pose to Israel and the world.
“First, let me clarify what is not the purpose of that speech. My speech is not intended to show any disrespect to President Obama or the esteemed office that he holds. I have great respect for both,” he said, receiving a standing ovation from more than 15.000 pro-Israel supporters.
Noting Israel’s proximity to Iran, Netanyahu said his country’s situation was more dire than that of the United States.
“American leaders worry about the security of their country,” he said. “Israeli leaders worry about the survival of their country.”
Showing a graphic he said depicted Iran’s training, arming and dispatching of terrorists on five continents, Netanyahu said their “tentacles of terror” reached across the world.
“This is what Iran is doing now — without nuclear weapons. Imagine what Iran would do with nuclear weapons. And this same Iran vows to annihilate Israel. If it develops nuclear weapons, it would have the means to achieve that goal,” he said. “And as prime minister of Israel, I have a moral obligation to speak up in the face of these dangers while there is still time to avert them.”