Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered an aggressive, forceful speech outlining the hostile nature of the Middle East toward his country, the ongoing “game of thrones”-style struggle between ISIS and Iran—both of which threaten its existence.
“Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam,” Netanyahu said. “In this deadly game of thrones, there’s no place for America or for Israel, no peace for Christians, Jews or Muslims who don’t share the Islamist medieval creed, no rights for women, no freedom for anyone.”
The speech was generally well-received by lawmakers inside the room, who punctuated his speech with approximately 35 rounds of applause, but while the broad sentiment of support for Israel was quite clear, there was no indication that Congress was willing to actively work to deny the Obama administration an as-yet unreached deal.
And while Netanyahu urged Congress to oppose a “bad deal” with Iran, he changed little about the fundamental prospects for a nuclear deal being reached.
Netanyahu denounced the plans that are starting to emerge about a nuclear deal with Iran. He warned of Iran’s ability to become a nuclear power—or close to it—after the deal sunsets.
“If the deal now being negotiated is accepted by Iran, that deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons, lots of them,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu heaped praise on Democratic leader Sen. Harry Reid, calling him a “good man,” and lauded President Barack Obama, who “was there” when Israel needed him.
“I deeply regret that some have seen my being here as political. That was never my intention,” Netanyahu said of his appearance.
In many ways, everything about how he came to speak in the House chamber on Tuesday was political.
His invitation was extended by Speaker John Boehner instead of President Obama—a breach of protocol made worse by the fact Obama and Netanyahu already have a strained relationship.
Dozens of lawmakers boycotted his speech due to its highly politicized atmosphere. And Netanyahu is fighting for his political life with the Israeli elections around the corner on March 17.
His domestic opponents have criticized his giving a speech to the American Congress, saying that it threatens the bipartisan nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
“It creates tension and challenges the bipartisan nature of the relationship,” Labour Party MK Erel Margalit told The Daily Beast. While the opposition Labour Party opposes Iran as a threshold nuclear state, Margalit continued, it would not have made a speech.
“These discussions ought to be had behind closed doors at the highest levels,” Margalit said.
Netanyahu didn’t reveal any details of the ongoing, private talks between the United States and Iran—something that American officials had warned would be a serious breach of trust between two longtime allies.
Instead, he focused his fire on Iran, as a regional aggressor to its neighbors and a global sponsor of terrorism.
“Iran has proven time and time again that it cannot be trusted. For over a year, we’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, this is a bad deal. It’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it,” Netanyahu told the joint meeting of Congress. “The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal.”
But some left the speech feeling patronized and alienated. House Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who objected to the speech being held in the first place, characterized the speech as containing “condescension towards our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran.”
“As one who values the U.S.-Israel relationship, and loves Israel, I was near tears throughout the prime minister’s speech—saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the P5 +1 nations,” Pelosi said after his remarks.
Following the speech, some Republicans were chattier than others.
“I’m not going to do any interview right now,” Sen. Rand Paul said as he breezed by reporters.
In a statement later, Paul praised the speech. “It is important to work together to prevent a nuclear Iran, and the spread of Radical Islam,” he said.
“Great speech,” said Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I think he did a great job of laying out the magnitude of the issue, in a way that was totally nonpartisan. I thought he rose to the occasion.”
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich joined other former lawmakers in attendance at the Netanyahu speech, including MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, former Sen. Joe Lieberman, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
“The pressure against the president giving Iran a bad deal is building and I think it’s bipartisan and I think you will see the potential of the Congress if necessary imposing its disagreement even with a veto override,” Gingrich said.