Netanyahu was addressing a visibly and audibly electrified audience of 13,000, including more than half of congress (according to the prime minister). He received the longest standing ovation at the conference, eventually commenting that the applause could be heard all the way to Jerusalem, “the eternal, undivided capital of Israel.”
The prime minister’s speech focused mostly on Iran, stressing the gravity of the nuclear threat, and disputing claims that an attack would do more harm than good.
“For 15 years I’ve been warning that a nuclear armed Iran is a grave danger to my country and the peace and security of the entire world,” Netanyahu said, “For the past decade the international community has tried diplomacy; it hasn’t worked. For six years, the international community has tried sanctions, that hasn’t worked either.”
He stated his appreciation for Obama’s recent attempts to impose “even tougher sanctions on Iran.” In his address to AIPAC on Sunday, Obama affirmed his strong preference for diplomatic sanctions, and willingness to use force if necessary. The sanctions are working, Obama said, and Europe will place a ban on Iranian oil imports in July.
“Few thought that international sanctions could put an immediate bite on the Iranian regime,” he said. “They have. Iran is isolated, its leadership divided and under pressure…its ally, the Assad regime, is crumbling.”
However, Netanyahu said that despite these increased sanctions, Iran’s nuclear program “continues to march forward,” and the world must be ready to respond.
Iran has claimed that it is enriching uranium to develop medical isotopes, he said, and some believe it. The reality—that Iran is developing intercontinental ballistic missiles, manufacturing thousands of centrifuges, and developing underground testing facilities—points to a different story, according to Netanyahu.
“Ladies and gentleman, if it looks like a duck, if it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck…it’s a duck,” he said. “But this time it’s a nuclear duck, and it’s time to start calling a duck, a duck!”
Yet, Netanyahu said that acknowledging that Iran’s goal is to produce nuclear weapons is not sufficient. It’s important to further understand that it will intend to use them. Iran’s possession of the bomb alone would embolden terrorists around the world, drastically raise oil prices, and likely lead to an attack, Netanyahu explained. He said Iran will “blackmailing the world.”
The prime minister then disputed claims that stopping Iran from acquiring the nuclear bomb could be dangerous, and a military confrontation “would provoke an even more vindictive response by Iran.”
In one of the more poignant parts of his speech, Netanyahu held up a copy of letters from 1944, in which the World Jewish Congress had implored the American government to bomb Auschwitz. Netanyahu drew similarities from the government’s response.
“It would be of such doubtful efficacy,” Netanyahu read, “that it would not warrant the use of our resources. Such an effort might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans.”
The world today is different, Netanyahu affirmed, and “we are blessed to live in a time where there is a Jewish state capable of defending the Jewish people.”
“As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation,” he said.
The prime minister’s address followed a private meeting with President Obama at the White House. Though press was not invited to the meeting, Channel 2 news in Israel on Monday night quoted an unnamed American intelligence official as saying that U.S. intelligence services believe that, in principle, Israel has already made the decision to bomb Iran.
A White House official told the New York Times on Monday that the meeting was “friendly, straightforward, and serious,” but it did not resolve basic differences between the two leaders over how to deal with the Iranian threat.
According to Israeli sources, the discussion between Netanyahu and Obama focused on Israel’s right to make that decision for itself. On that point, Israel won the argument, the sources said.