WASHINGTON — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a crowd of thousands of pro-Israel Americans on Monday night that, as leader of the Jewish state, “I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.”
The threat of a nuclear-armed Iran was the main subject of the prime minister’s speech to the annual AIPAC conference in Washington. There was no mention of the Palestinians, Syria, or Egypt.
Hours after meeting US President Obama at the White House, Netanyahu said Israel is running out of patience with international sanctions aimed at thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“Israel has waited for sanctions to work, and for diplomacy to work,” he said. “None of us can afford to wait much longer.”
“There has been a lot of talk about the cost of stopping Iran. It’s about time we started talking about the cost of not stopping Iran,” he said.
Before the speech, Israel’s Channel 2 reported that an unnamed American intelligence official said that the US intelligence community is convinced that Israel’s leadership has already decided in principle to attack Iran. He called a preemptive Israel strike ‘tantamount to suicide.’ The Prime Minister’s office dismissed the report as “scare tactics” by those in the US administration who want to constrain Israel from contemplating a military strike.
In his speech to the AIPAC crowd, which was estimated at more than 13,000 activists, and during which he was interrupted about half a dozen times by standing ovations, Netanyahu echoed his earlier comments at the White House that the Jewish state “must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself.”
“Never again will the Jewish people be powerless,” he said. Netanyahu cited the Book of Esther as an example of how, “in every generation, Jews face people who want to destroy them.”
The Israeli prime minister presented President Obama a copy of the Book of Esther during their White House meeting earlier in the day. The Biblical account details the story of Purim that Jews are celebrating this week. It is hardly a coincidence that Netanyahu invoked the story: the events described in the book – notably arch-villain Haman’s decree to murder all the kingdom’s Jews and the subsequent thwarting of those plans – took place in what is believed to be modern-day Iran.
Netanyahu read a laundry list of complaints against the Islamic Republic and specifically cited Tehran’s responsibility for the deaths of Americans, from Hizbullah’s 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Lebanon to the deaths of American soldiers by IEDs in Iraq. He likened Iran’s belief that the US government was responsible for the 9/11 attacks to its denial of the Holocaust.
The largest and most prolonged standing ovation occurred after Netanyahu read a 1944 letter from the US War Department to leaders of the American Jewish community who had been urging the US and its allies to bomb the railway lines to Auschwitz.
The letter said such an attack would be “ineffective and provoke a more vindictive response from the Germans,” he noted bitterly. Netanyahu used that missive to dismiss what he called “some commentators who will have you believe that stopping Iran from getting the bomb is more dangerous than letting them have the bomb.”