Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended on Sunday a planned speech to the U.S. Congress about Iran, saying he had a moral obligation to take every opportunity to speak out on an issue that poses a mortal threat to his country.
His visit to Washington in March has opened up a political rift in the United States and has drawn accusations in Israel that Netanyahu is undermining a strategic alliance to win an election due two weeks after the trip.
Briefing his cabinet on the speech to be made on March 3 to a joint meeting of Congress, Netanyahu said his priority was to urge the United States and other powers not to negotiate an Iranian nuclear deal that might endanger Israel.
“In coming weeks, the powers are liable to reach a framework agreement with Iran, an agreement liable to leave Iran as a nuclear threshold state,” he said in remarks carried by Israeli broadcasters.
“As prime minister of Israel, I am obligated to make every effort to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weaponry that will be aimed at the State of Israel. This effort is global and I will go anywhere I am invited to make the State of Israel’s case and defend its future and existence.”
John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, invited Netanyahu without informing the Obama administration, in what the White House deemed a breach of protocol.
Netanyahu, a right-winger who has a testy relationship with Barack Obama, will not meet the president during his visit. Obama has often sparred with Netanyahu over strategy on Iran and the Palestinians.
Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, while siding with Netanyahu, acknowledged the problematic handling of the event.
“There have certainly arisen questions here that should be worked out between us and the Americans, between the administration and Congress,” Yaalon told Israel’s Army Radio.
“We have no intention of causing offence. We have no intention of causing harm.”
The White House has cited the proximity of Israel’s March 17 election and a desire to avoid the appearance of influencing the poll as reason for withholding an Oval Office invitation.
Netanyahu’s rightist Likud party is running neck-and-neck in opinion polls with center Labour.
“Netanyahu is directly harming the president of the United States. What Netanyahu is doing with this thuggish behavior is to harm Israel’s security interests,” Labour leader Isaac Herzog told Army Radio.
(By Dan Williams, editing by Jeffrey Heller and Gareth Jones)