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Herzog: Netanyahu speech ‘solely for sake of elections’

‘Preaching to the choir in Congress won’t change a thing,’ Zionist Union leader says; Liberman: ‘We have to support him’

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog speaking on February 8, 2015. (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog speaking on February 8, 2015. (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

MK Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Zionist Union list, aired his stark disapproval of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s slated congressional speech on Sunday, insisting that the address was solely about the upcoming Israeli elections.

“The goal for all of us is shared: to sterilize and neutralize the nuclear potential of Iran, to deny Iran a nuclear weapon,” Herzog told Israel Radio. “However, the dispute between me and the prime minister is a very practical one: it’s the way we go about achieving that goal.”

Netanyahu infuriated the White House and many Democratic lawmakers when he accepted an invitation by Republicans to argue on Capitol Hill against President Barack Obama’s push for a nuclear deal with Iran. The address will take place on Tuesday, just two weeks before Israel’s March 17 general election, in which he is seeking a third consecutive term in office.

“As prime minister of Israel it is my duty to care for the security of Israel,” Netanyahu said Saturday at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, which he visited ahead of his trip to Washington. “That is why we strongly oppose the agreement emerging between Iran and the world powers which could endanger our very existence.”

Herzog said that the speech would not be an efficient way of bringing about that goal.

“Preaching to the choir in Congress won’t change a thing. And at the end of the day, it will sour the atmosphere, the relationship with the administration,” he said.

“I can already tell you,” he said, “the way to change what is happening in the negotiations between the coalition and Iran is through dialogue that is intensive, straightforward and intimate. Not through speeches.”

Herzog also cast aspersions on Netanyahu’s reasoning for speaking before the special session of Congress. Jewish leaders asked the prime minister to change the date of his speech, Herzog said, but Netanyahu refused. “He wants this for the elections, solely for the sake of the elections,” he said.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who heads the hawkish Israel Beytenu party, told Israel Radio that it was the wrong time to voice concerns about the speech.

“It doesn’t matter whether we agree or disagree with him, whether we are in the opposition or the government, whether we’re competing with Likud in the elections or not — the moment the prime minister takes off to travel abroad, and especially to the US, we don’t have another prime minister, and we have to support him.”

“The deal is bad,” Liberman asserted, although the agreement has yet to be finalized and the administration has made clear that it has not been keeping the Israeli leadership abreast of all of the details of the talks. “It’s a deal whose first consequence will be an arms race in the Middle East.”

“Once we, in effect, give Iran the seal of approval to be a nuclear threshold state,” Liberman warned, “all the other countries will join course.”

Herzog’s opinion lined up with Liberman’s on that count. In an opinion piece published on Friday in The New York Times, the Zionist Union head wrote, “But a nuclear Iran would endanger not only Israel. If it goes nuclear, the Middle East will go nuclear, putting world peace itself in jeopardy.”

Netanyahu is set to speak before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday at 10:45 a.m. EST.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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