Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared Iran to the Islamic State group and argued against a U.S.-led deal on Tehran's nuclear program, contending an agreement would leave Iran with the capacity to build a nuclear bomb in less than a year as he gave his highly anticipated address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday. Netanyahu implored the U.S. to reconsider negotiations with Iran because it won't stifle the country's nuclear ambitions.
“When it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy," Netanyahu said to applause before a packed U.S. House chamber. “We must always remember the greatest danger facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons. ... That deal would not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It would all but guarantee that Iran will get those weapons.”
The Israeli prime minister said Iran and ISIS are competing "for the crown of militant Islam." "In this deadly game of thrones, there is no place for America or Israel," he said.
Netanyahu said a potential deal would have "two major concessions," including leaving Iran with a "vast nuclear infrastructure" since nuclear facilities won't be demolished. He added Tehran's government should not be trusted, pointing out Iran's supreme leader once tweeted, "Israel must be annihilated." The prime minister said the Iranians have been duplicitous, noting Iran recently blew up a mock U.S. aircraft carrier at the same time it was engaging in negotiations over its nuclear program.
Since the Iranian revolution in 1979 transitioned Iran from a secular to religious government, the Israeli prime minister said the country has "been hijacked by zealots," been a sponsor of terrorism and played a role in the killings of Americans in Beirut, Iraq and Afghanistan. "Iran's regime is not merely a Jewish problem anymore than the Nazi regime was merely a Jewish problem," Netanyahu said. "Iran's regime poses a great threat not only to Israel but also to the peace of the entire world," he said.
Netanyahu said the U.S. should urge Iran to do three things: "Stop aggression against its neighbors in the Middle East, stop supporting terrorism and stop threatening to annihilate Israel. ... If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country."
The run-up to the speech stirred controversy both in Israel and the United States where about 60 Democrats, or about 25 percent of Democratic lawmakers, said they would boycott the speech, calling it was a political stunt that undermined President Barack Obama because Boehner didn’t consult the White House before extending the invitation.
The Israeli prime minister alluded to the controversy in his remarks. “I deeply regret some perceive my being here as political,” Netanyahu said. “That was never my intention.”
In Israel, critics contended Netanyahu’s speech would further embolden Iran to move forward with its nuclear program. The Obama administration said the same would be true if the U.S. pulled out of negotiations with Iran. Some Israelis said they believe the address was being used by Netanyahu to improve his standing in Israel’s upcoming election in two weeks.
With Tuesday’s speech, Netanyahu is just the second head of state to address a joint session of Congress, joining late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.