By Raf Sanchez
The Israeli prime minister’s hawkish speech cast doubt on Barack Obama’s diplomatic efforts to avert war in the Middle East. He said that despite an American-led movement to tighten sanctions against Iran, the Islamic Republic’s “nuclear march” was continuing seemingly undeterred.
“We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer. As Prime Minister of Israel, I will never let my people live under the shadow of annihilation,” he said in a speech given just hours after meeting Mr Obama for critical talks in the White House.
Mr Netanyahu did not signal an imminent strike but his aggressive tone put him at odds with the American president, who earlier insisted that there remained “a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution to this issue”.
In his speech to a gathering of Aipac, America’s most influential pro-Israel lobby group, Mr Netanyahu reasserted once more Israel’s willingness to use force – if necessary on its own – to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
“The purpose of the Jewish state is to secure the Jewish future,” he said. “That is why Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”
Despite two speeches and public remarks in the Oval Office, it remained far from clear that Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu had bridged the significant gap between them. Contrary to some expectations, the Israeli leader made no public demand nor private demands for “red lines” that would trigger an American attack on Iran but nor did he offer any support for Mr Obama’s non-military efforts.
In his speech, he drew a pessimistic time line of the attempts to peacefully deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions, saying the international community had tried diplomacy for a decade and sanctions for six years without success. “I appreciate President Obama’s recent efforts to impose even tougher sanctions against Iran. Those sanctions are hurting Iran’s economy. But unfortunately, Iran’s nuclear march goes on,” he said.
In the most emotive section of a speech given to an audience that included half of the US Congress as well as members of Mr Obama’s cabinet and some 13,000 delegates, Mr Netanyahu drew comparisons with America’s unwillingness to bomb the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz.
Brandishing a copy of a 1944 letter from the US Department of War, he recounted how the Allies had refrained from attacking the camp out of fear it might provoke “even more vindictive action” from the Germans.
“My friends, 2012 is not 1944… Never again,” he cried, repeating one of the founding slogans of Israel to a roaring standing ovation from the audience.
The prime minister, himself a former commando, used the speech to lay out the justifications for a possible Israeli attack that would undoubtedly draw fury from Islamic nations around the world.
“There’s been plenty of talk recently about the costs of stopping Iran. I think it’s time to talk about the costs of not stopping Iran,” he said, claiming that a nuclear Iran would trigger an arms race in the Middle East and allow the regime to choke off the world’s supply. “The worst nightmare of all,” he said, was the prospect of nuclear terrorism in which an Iranian bomb could be smuggled into an American or Israeli city.
Linking the US’s fate with that of his own country, he said: “For the sake of our prosperity, for the sake of our security, for the sake of our children, Iran must not be allowed to get nuclear weapons.”