Netanyahu boards plane for Washington: I go as an emissary of the entire Jewish people

Prime minister speaks at Ben Gurion Airport ahead of fateful speech that has sparked tension with White House.

March 1, 2015 11:18
2 minute read.

Netanyahu leaves for Washington‏

Netanyahu leaves for Washington‏

Leaving Israel for the US, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday morning that he was going as an “emissary of all the citizens of Israel, even those who don’t agree with me, and of the entire Jewish people.”

Netanyahu, whose upcoming speech before a joint session of US Congress has triggered a great deal of friction with the White House, called his journey “historic.”

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“I am greatly concerned about the security of the citizens of Israel and I will do what is necessary in order to ensure our future,” he said upon boarding a plane to Washington at Ben-Gurion Airport.

Government officials said that, as is Netanyahu’s custom, work on the speech to Congress would continue until it is delivered at 10 a.m. Washington time on Tuesday.

They said the prime minister genuinely believed it would be an historic moment, and that in the best-case scenario his speech would compel “policy-makers to rethink concessions they are willing to make to the Iranians.”

Netanyahu was scheduled to arrive in Washington late Sunday night Israel time, and deliver a speech to AIPAC’s annual policy conference Monday morning. That speech is to 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.

Likud politicians took to the airwaves on Sunday to defend Netanyahu’s trip and dismiss claims that it turned Israel into a partisan issue and created a crisis in relations with the US.

“Netanyahu is not coming with a missile to blow up Washington – he is coming to speak, to try and sway its politicians,” Interior Minister Gilad Erdan told Army Radio.

As for the Iranian nuclear threat itself, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told the Knesset Channel that the military option against Iran was still on the table.

“It’s not necessary to flaunt this option. Sometimes, you can just act,” Steinitz said.

“This is a bad agreement that is full of holes and loopholes,” he added, referring to the deal being worked out between Iran and the P5+1 global powers. “It’s not possible to reach a good agreement with Iran, so the only options are a poor agreement or a very poor agreement.”

However, at a Tel Aviv press conference Sunday morning, a group of 180 former security officials called “Commanders for the Security of Israel” strongly disagreed with Netanyahu’s plan to address Congress, arguing that his speech had actually harmed Israel’s battle against Iran’s nuclear program.

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amnon Reshef, the group’s founder, said any action that created a rift with the US posed a security threat, warning against the “false impression that a speech would stop Iran’s nuclear option.”

“This harms Israel’s deterrence efforts,” Reshef said. “Any security expert knows that even after the speech, Iran will not back away from its nuclear program.”

Netanyahu was 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.

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