WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was welcomed with a resounding ovation at the AIPAC conference in Washington on Tuesday, where he gave a 30-minute speech on “the good, the bad and the beautiful” in Israel and the region.
Netanyahu steered completely clear of his legal woes piling up at home. His wife, Sara, also received a standing ovation when she was introduced.
In his speech, the prime minister made no mention of police investigations; the coalition crisis threatening his government; or the Western Wall issue, which is a sore point with parts of American Jewry. He spoke only briefly about the Palestinians.
Showing no outward signs of the impact of his situation at home, Netanyahu was strikingly upbeat. He strolled away from the podium at one point to get a “closer look” at the 18,000-strong audience and used slides on large screens to talk about Israel’s contributions to the world in the spheres of agriculture, water preservation and security, as well as its growing diplomatic standing.
On the back of his notes he wrote for all to see, “1-800-How’s-my-speech?”
Against the background of a picture of an airplane on the screens behind him, Netanyahu – referring to Israel’s intelligence capabilities – said: “A plane like that could have been blown out of the sky if it weren’t for Israeli intelligence, a plane heading from Australia to the Persian Gulf. You’re boarding planes when you leave this place, you are safer because of Israeli intelligence. It not only protects Israeli lives, it protects innocent lives around the world.”
He then moved on to Israel’s diplomatic standing. As he pointed to another screen with a map of the world, in which all the countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations were colored in blue, Netanyahu said to a resounding ovation, “You remember people talked about Israel’s isolation? You remember that? Israel’s isolation? Pretty soon, the countries that don’t have relations with us, they’re going to be isolated. There are those who talk about boycotting Israel? We’ll boycott them.”
While the good news coming out of Israel – regarding its technology, military and intelligence expertise – is very good and getting better, the bad news, he said, “is that bad things are getting worse and they’re very bad.”
The overwhelmingly bad thing, he said, was Iran. “We have to deal with this challenge,” he said. “If I have a message for you today, it’s a very simple one: We must stop Iran. We will stop Iran.”
NETANYAHU LAST spoke in person to AIPAC in 2015, during a visit to Washington in which spoke out against the Iranian deal in Congress. On Tuesday, he said what he warned about then is transpiring now.
He recalled that three years ago, he said as a result of the nuclear deal, Iran would not become more moderate and peaceful, “but more extreme and belligerent, much more dangerous.”
Netanyahu then pointed to a map showing Iran’s inroads in the region colored in black, and said the Islamic Republic was trying to establish a land bridge from Tehran to Tartus on the Mediterranean. He said Iran wants not only to establish permanent military bases in Syria, but also to manufacture precision guided missiles in Syria and Lebanon.
“I will not let that happen, we will not let that happen,” he said.
“Last week, we read in the Book of Esther about an earlier Persian attempt to exterminate our people,” Netanyahu said, referring to Purim. “They failed then. They’ll fail now.”
Netanyahu distinguished between the Iranian regime and the Iranian people, saying a day will come “when this horrible tyranny will disappear, will perish from the earth and at that point, the historic friendship between the people of Israel and the people of Persia will be reestablished. Today we have Haman. Tomorrow we’ll have Cyrus and friendship and peace.”
Netanyahu also spent a few minutes talking about the Palestinian Authority’s payment of $350 million per year to terrorists and their families, and asked what message this was sending to Palestinian children.
“I believe [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas should find better use for this money,” he said, “to build, roads, schools, hospitals, factories. Build life, don’t pay death. Invest in life, invest in peace.”
The “beautiful,” in his “good, bad and beautiful” equation was the Israeli-US relationship.
“What is this beautiful alliance made of? It’s made of our shared values,” he said. “That’s the wellspring of the great alliance between our two countries.”
Following his address to AIPAC, Netanyahu went to Capitol Hill, where he met with leaders of both major political parties.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu will address the Economic Club of Washington. He will then fly to New York to participate in a Jewish Agency tribute for outgoing Chairman Natan Sharansky. He is scheduled to return to Israel on Friday.