Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid a visit to the Western Wall on Saturday night, just hours before flying to Washington on one of the most contentious visits there by an Israeli prime minister in recent memory.
With the Wall as his backdrop, Netanyahu said he wanted to visit Judaism’s holiest site before embarking on his trip Sunday morning to Washington, where his scheduled speech before Congress on Tuesday has placed him at loggerheads with the White House.
“I want to take this opportunity to say that I respect US President Barack Obama,” he stressed. “I believe in the strength of the relationship between Israel and the US and in their strength to overcome differences of opinion, those that have been and those that will yet be.”
Netanyahu reiterated his position that, as Israel’s prime minister, it is his obligation to worry about the country’s security, “and for that reason we strongly oppose the agreement being formulated between the world powers and Iran that could endanger Israel’s very existence.”
This is the first time since he became prime minister for the second time in 2009 that Netanyahu visited the Wall before embarking on a trip to the US. It came two days after a visit to his father’s grave in Jerusalem. His father, Netanyahu explained to the haredi radio station Kol Barama on Friday, always gave him advice at critical junctures in his life.
“He said to always look at the threats endangering our people,” Netanyahu said of his father, Benzion, a noted historian who died in 2012. “He said that one of the things that was lacking in Jewish history was seeing in real time what endangers our existence.”
The obligation incumbent on Israel’s leaders, Netanyahu said, is to identify the dangers in time and do everything they can to scuttle them.
“My responsibility is to worry not only about the State of Israel, but also the future of the Jewish people,” he said, “to stand up and raise our voice. Seventy, 80 years ago no one could raise their voice when there were plans to destroy us. Today there is, and it is my obligation.”
Netanyahu pointed to former prime ministers David Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol, and Menachem Begin as leaders who took action they felt was necessary, even though it ran contrary to strongly stated US policies.
“When there is something that is connected to our very existence, what do they expect the prime minister to do, bow his head and accept something that is dangerous in order to have good relations?” he asked. “I think the relations are strong enough to overcome the disagreements, and that Iran with an atomic bomb is much more dangerous than one disagreement or another [with the US].”
Government officials said that, as is Netanyahu’s custom, work on the speech to Congress will continue until it is delivered at 11 a.m. Tuesday morning. The officials said that Netanyahu genuinely believes this is an historic moment, and that in the best case scenario the speech could compel “policy makers to rethink concessions that they are willing to make to the Iranians.”
Netanyahu is scheduled to arrive in Washington Sunday afternoon and deliver a speech to AIPAC’s annual policy conference Monday morning that will focus on the strength of the US-Israel relationship. He is to have lunch with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders on Tuesday afternoon after delivering his address to Congress, and then fly back to Israel, arriving a few hours before the onset of Purim.
The prime minister noted the timing, saying that just as Jews on Purim remember the attempt in Persia in antiquity to destroy the Jews, “it is the same Persia with a regime that is waving the banner of destroying the state of the Jews. The means by which they intend on implementing this threat is with many atomic bombs.”
Netanyahu will be accompanied to Washington by Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, who was in Jerusalem last week helping him prepare for the trip with his top advisers and his wife, Sara.