Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress is not intended to disrespect President Barack Obama or his administration, but to warn the world of the threat posed by Iran’s apparent pursuit of nuclear weapons, the Israeli leader told a pro-Israel audience in Washington on Monday, a day before the controversial address.
Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington, DC, Netanyahu described tensions between the US and Israel over Iran as a disagreement within a family.
He stressed that the alliance between Israel and the US was “stronger than ever,” and added that he expected the alliance to become “even stronger in the coming years.”
“Disagreements in the family are uncomfortable. But we must always remember that we are family. Our alliance is sound, our friendship is strong,” he said. “The values that unite us are much stronger than issues that divide us.”
Netanyahu is scheduled to address the US Congress on the Iranian threat Tuesday, in a move White House officials had described as damaging to bilateral ties.
The prime minister defended the appearance as necessary to thwart Iran, which he described as heading toward the bomb.
“We are no longer silent. Today we have a voice. And tomorrow, I plan to use that voice,” Netanyahu said to a supportive crowd. “I plan to speak about an Iranian regime that’s developing the capacity to make nuclear weapons, lots of them.”
The US-Israel relationship will “weather” the current disagreement “because we share the same dream,” he said.
Netanyahu also rebuffed claims that his speech had turned Israel into a divisive issue, saying that support for the Jewish state must remain bipartisan.
“The last thing I would want is that Israel would become a partisan issue,” he said firmly.
He added said he “deeply appreciates” the US for its support, and that he did not ever mean to disrespect Obama or his office, as he had “great respect for both.”
Netanyahu also backed up his embattled ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, who worked with Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) to schedule the Congressional address.
Netanyahu described Dermer, who has reportedly been isolated from routine contact with the Obama administration, as “a man who knows how to take the heat.”
Employing a crude graphic showing attacks around the world, the prime minister accused Iran of exporting terror.
“This is what Iran is doing now without nuclear weapons,” he said. “Imagine what would happen if it had nuclear weapons.”
The Israeli leader explained that he had “a moral obligation to speak up in the face of these dangers while there is still time to avert them.” For 2,000 years, Netanyahu said, Jews have been defenseless. “Well, no more!” he declared.
“Those days are over,” he added. “Today in the sovereign state of Israel, we defend ourselves.” In so doing, Israel allies itself with the US “to defend our common civilization against common threats,” Netanyahu said.
Iran, the prime minister said, “is threatening to destroy Israel, is devouring country after country in the Middle East… and is developing, as we speak,” the capability to build nuclear weapons.
The disagreements among the US and Israel over the Iranian nuclear issue were “only natural,” because there are differences between the two countries, Netanyahu continued.
The Israeli leader said that in the nine years he served as prime minister, not one day has passed in which he had not thought about Israel’s survival.
Despite occasional disagreements, the friendship between America and Israel grew stronger and stronger, decade after decade,” Netanyahu said.
Earlier Monday, a senior official traveling with Netanyahu said the Israeli leader was set to reveal details from an emerging nuclear deal to “uninformed” US lawmakers during his controversial speech to Congress on Tuesday.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told reporters covering the prime minister’s trip that Israel knows more about the agreement with Iran than many members of Congress.
“We know many details from the agreement being put together, details that we feel members of Congress are unaware of,” the official said, according to the Haaretz daily. “According to the information we have, the deal currently taking shape will leave Iran with the capability to build a nuclear weapon, if [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei makes a decision to do so.”
The official said Netanyahu would reveal some details of the agreement during his speech before both houses of Congress on Tuesday, according to the Ynet news site.
“We are not here to offend President Obama whom we respect very much,” said a Netanyahu adviser, who was not authorized to be identified. “The prime minister is here to warn, in front of any stage possible, the dangers” of the deal that may be taking shape.
A report late last month that the US was pursuing a deal with Iran that would freeze the ability to produce a nuclear weapons for 10 years before allowing it to ramp up enrichment activities was quickly denied by the White House and State Department.
However, Israeli officials, including Netanyahu, have said the deal being put together is a bad one that will be dangerous for Israel and the Western world.
The invitation to speak to Congress extended by House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, and Netanyahu’s acceptance have caused an uproar that has exposed tensions between Israel and the US, its most important ally.
By consenting to speak, Netanyahu angered the White House, which was not consulted in advance, and Democrats, who were forced to choose between showing support for Israel and backing the president.
“I will do everything in my ability to secure our future,” Netanyahu said before flying to Washington. He described himself as “an emissary” of the Jewish people.
Boehner said Iran’s nuclear ambitions were a threat well beyond the region.
“We’re not going to resolve this issue by sticking our heads in the sand,” Boehner told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
He said Netanyahu “can talk about this threat, I believe, better than anyone. And the United States Congress wants to hear from him, and so do the American people.”
Times of Israel staff, AP and AFP contributed to this report.