JERUSALEM – At times, he got raucous applause during his speech in Washington on Tuesday. But the reactions to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s message that may matter most came in Israel and Iran — where emotions ran high, both in support and in opposition.
In an address before the U.S. Congress punctuated by one-liners, Netanyahu claimed that ongoing talks about Iran’s nuclear program “would all but guarantee that Iran gets nuclear weapons, lots of them.”
He portrayed Iran’s leaders as untrustworthy and bloodthirsty, intent on annihilating Israel and threatening its allies.
That viewpoint, not surprisingly, didn’t play well in Tehran.
While the speech wasn’t carried live, Iranians quickly pounced with heated condemnations of Netanyahu and characterized him as a liar. TV banners labeled the speech an example of “Iranaphobia,” with commentators saying that it humiliated U.S. President Barack Obama and deepened the wedge between Israel and its longtime allies.
“This speech was a sign of the weakness and extreme isolation of radical groups,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said of what she called “a deceitful theater play.”
“… The continued lies of Netanyahu regarding the aims and intentions of the peaceful nuclear program of Iran are repetitive and sickening,” she said.
The reaction in Israel was more diverse, albeit predictable, reflecting the divisions there ahead of its March 17 election.
Isaac Herzog — the Labor Party chairman hoping to become Israel’s next Prime Minister — said that Netanyahu’s speech, “as impressive as it may be, did not prevent the Iranians’ nuclear program” nor did it impact talks now underway in Montreux, Switzerland, to address it.
What the speech did accomplish, according to Herzog, is “greatly undermine … the relationship between Israel and the United States,” with Obama opposing Netanyahu’s speech as a political move that threatened to thwart the nuclear talks.
“It will not change the position of (Obama’s) administration and will only broaden the crisis of our great friend and our strategic ally,” Herzog said of the speech. “That price, we will have to pay.”
On the other side of the debate are people such as Danny Danon, a former Israel deputy defense minister.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu sounded the alarm for the survival of our country,” Danon said from Jerusalem. “We are worried. And I am very proud of our prime minister, … who said exactly what we feel: It is a bad deal.” – CNN