Netanyahu speaks to Congress.
(photo credit: screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 3 delivered arguably one of the strongest speeches ever given on American soil. Certainly before Congress. Surely by a foreign figure. The question is what effect it will have.
Will the speech have an impact like Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address had on forming America’s foreign policy for centuries to come? A speech still recited in the Senate every year to commemorate the first president’s birthday? Will the speech live up to Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address, which set the stage for ending slavery? Will it compare to Franklin Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural address, that helped rally the ranks from recession saying that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”? Will sound bites, like “when it comes to Iran and ISIS [Islamic State], the enemy of your enemy is your enemy” stand the test of time, like Kennedy’s 1961 referral to his countrymen, saying they should “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”? Will the speech serve as a defining moment, like Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I have a dream” speech had on the Civil Rights Movement?
If the speech slightly enhances the struggle against a nuclear Iran by shifting the approval of a few American decision makers from signing a dangerous deal with Iran, then Netanyahu’s speech will justifiably be included in the orators’ hall of fame alongside the monumental speeches mentioned above. No less.
In the run-up to the speech, we were warned that it might result in immediate and long-term ramifications against Israel, and a critically adverse effect on its relations with America.
The notion that US- Israeli relations can be sunk by a single speech was silly. If that’s all it takes, it would make one wonder what the relations are worth. Nevertheless, seldom was so much criticism leveled at a speech before it was given. An unprecedented 24 congressional standing ovations during Netanyahu’s address thankfully wiped away most of those worries.
Unlike Congress it is unlikely that President Barack Obama will take much note of Netanyahu’s words. He rarely ever has. Nonetheless, if Obama truly wants to put an end to Iranian aggression, make the ayatollahs accountable for their atrocities, prevent nuclear proliferation in one of the world’s most volatile regions, and be worthy of the Nobel peace prize he was awkwardly awarded six years ago, he would wisely follow in president Reagan’s 1987 footsteps.
During the trying times of the Cold War, speaking with his back to the Berlin wall, Reagan, the “great communicator,” conveyed a simple message to the Soviet premier, Mikhail Gorbachev: If you truly seek peace and prosperity for your people, he said; “Tear down this wall.” That might have marked the beginning of the end to a 50-year war between the superpowers.
In a similar manner, President Obama should travel to Tehran and tell the ayatollahs that if they really intend to change their course from the core and honestly want harmony for their people, they should relinquish their stranglehold on Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, stop terrorizing their neighbors and above all must bury “the bomb” for good.
They must abide by the Non-Proliferation Treaty that they have already signed and start a new relationship with the free world after 35 years of tyranny.
Clearly, it’s too soon to say what effect, if any, Netanyahu’s speech will have on the world’s order. Will the speech help stop a senseless deal with Iran? Will it have other international implications? Will the bilateral or multilateral relations between France, the United States, the UK, Russia, China, Germany and Israel or Iran be positively or negatively affected? Or will the speech merely shift an election’s agenda from local housing prices to external existential threats, and by doing so, influence polls that had Netanyahu lagging behind Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog before the speech to ones that now have the prime minister slightly ahead.
The author is a PhD candidate at Haifa University and a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya. The opinions expressed are his own.