TIME Foreign Policy

Netanyahu Tells Congress Iran Deal ‘Paves Path to a Bomb’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted the emerging nuclear agreement with Iran Tuesday in an address to a joint meeting of Congress, saying the deal to prevent the regime from obtaining nuclear weapons would have the opposite result.

Addressing a spirited Congress in the House chamber, Netanyahu warned the P5+1 nuclear deal “could well threaten the survival of my country and the future of my people,” encouraging lawmakers to oppose the agreement being negotiated by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

“It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb, it paves Iran’s path to the bomb,” Netanyahu said, saying it would only embolden the Iranian government. “That deal will not prevent Iran from nuclear weapons, it would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons — lots of them.”

“This is a bad deal,” he added. “It’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it.”

Netanyahu’s speech was repeatedly punctuated by applause and standing ovations, often bringing both Democrats and Republicans to their feet. The image and the speech was a thumb in the eye to Obama, who was not consulted before Netanyahu was invited to address lawmakers and who sees the potential agreement a capstone to his legacy in office. National Security Adviser Susan Rice even called Netanyahu’s visit “destructive” to the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The speech fell just two weeks before Netanyahu stands for re-election in a close race at home, shading the speech with elements of his domestic politics as much American divisions.

The Israeli leader said he didn’t intend his visit to become the partisan lightning rod it had become and praised Obama’s commitment to Israel, including record levels of security assistance under his Administration. “I know that my speech has been the subject of much controversy,” he said. “I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political. That was never my intention.”

But Netanyahu did not pull any punches in outlining why he believes Obama is on the wrong path, painting a picture of a Middle East engaged in a furious nuclear arms race. “This deal won’t be a farewell to arms,” he said. “It would be a farewell to arms control. And the Middle East would soon be crisscrossed by nuclear tripwires. A region where small skirmishes can trigger big wars would turn into a nuclear tinder box.”

MORE: Why Bibi and Barack Can’t Get Along

Netanyahu raised objection that the emerging deal does not lengthen the so-called breakout time — the time it would take Iran to construct a nuclear weapon — and that it would lift sanctions on the country without requiring it to stop funding terrorist groups like Hizballah.

“Would Iran be less aggressive when sanctions are removed and its economy is stronger?” he asked. “If Iran is gobbling up four countries right now while it’s under sanctions, how many more countries will Iran devour when sanctions are lifted? Would Iran fund less terrorism when it has mountains of cash with which to fund more terrorism? Why should Iran’s radical regime change for the better when it can enjoy the best of both world’s: aggression abroad, prosperity at home?”

Netanyahu rejected the notion that the alternative to a deal is war, as Obama allies have maintained. “The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal,” he said. But he offered no path toward a deal that Iran would agree to, other than calling for the continuation of global sanctions, until Iran halts funding terror and aggressive actions against its neighbors, and stops calling for the destruction of the state of Israel.

“If Iran threatens to walk away from the table, and this often happens in a Persian bazaar, call their bluff,” he said. “They’ll be back. They need a deal a lot more than you do.”

TIME Congress

Israeli Prime Minister Speech Draws Big Names

Israeli PM Netanyahu Addresses Joint Meeting Of Congress
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is greeted by members of Congress as he arrives to speak during a joint meeting of the United States Congress in the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC.

As many as 50 Democrats may be missing the speech, but Republicans have packed the house

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress felt a bit like a State of the Union.

Despite the partisan contention around the speech which led as many as 53 Democratic lawmakers to skip the speech, it proved popular with Republicans, former lawmakers and interested citizens, according to reporters tweeting at the event.

It was a hot ticket. Speaker John Boehner’s office said there were 10 times as many requests for tickets as there were seats available in the gallery.

Some former lawmakers seen on Capitol Hill Tuesday include former Speaker Newt Gingrich, former representative and current MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, former representative and current Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Reps. Michele Bachmann and Dennis Kucinich and former Sens. Joe Lieberman and Norm Coleman.

The event drew some big names in conservative circles. Casino magnate and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, Weekly Standard founder William Kristol, conservative radio host Mark Levin, Republican political consultant Frank Luntz and attorney Alan Dershowitz were also spotted by reporters inside the Capitol.

The speech drew interest from outside politics too. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and Entertainment Tonight host Mary Hart.

TIME politics

Netanyahu Will Be Speaking in Winston Churchill’s Shadow

Netanyahu is only the second foreign leader to address Congress three times

A leader of a close U.S. ally arrives in Washington to speak before Congress for his third time, as relations between the two countries begin to fray.

That was British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in January 1952, making what TIME then called a “cautiously billed” visit to the United States to attempt to restore the close ties that had carried the U.S. and Britain through World War II.

The same description might also work for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who addresses Congress on Tuesday, becoming only the second foreign leader to address Congress three times. The close relationship between Israel and the U.S. has been buffeted by Israeli policies in the West Bank (opposed by the White House) and by U.S.-led negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program (opposed by Netanyahu). Now, Netanyahu is hoping to convince Washington to see eye-to-eye with him on Iran’s nuclear program.

Netanyahu has already been compared to Churchill by Republicans in Congress. “There is a reason that the adjective most often applied to Prime Minister Netanyahu with respect to Iran is Churchillian,” said Senator Ted Cruz on Monday. House Speaker John Boehner said he plans to give Netanyahu a bust of Churchill.

Here’s how Churchill handled the situation:

In 1952, the post-war state of affairs had brought with it a new set of grievances between Washington and London. What approach should be taken toward Communist China? Would the U.S. support British influence in the Middle East? Would Britain allow the U.S. to use bases in England for nuclear-armed flights against Russia? “But above all else was the fact that, in the time of her own financial and foreign-affairs crises, Britain had somehow lost touch with the U.S.,” TIME wrote in the Jan. 14, 1952 issue.

Still, Churchill faced a friendlier environment than Netanyahu might on Tuesday. While the Prime Minister did not share the same bond with President Truman that he had with Truman’s predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, he was warmly received in Congress and he met personally with Truman. (Obama has declined to meet with Netanyahu, citing concern about influencing upcoming elections in Israel.)

In an article in the Jan. 28, 1952 issue, TIME reported on his entrance into the chamber: “The great man, bearing his 77 history laden years with impassive dignity, walked slowly through the standing, clapping U.S. Congressmen. He had aged, of course, but Winston Churchill seemed hardly a shade less pink-cheeked, rocklike and John Bullish than when he spoke before the House and Senate during World War II.”

One of those speeches had been given nine years earlier, on May 19, 1943, when Churchill had spoken to Congress to provide a confident report on wartime progress and to pledge Britain’s support in the fight against Japan. It was “not one of Churchill’s greatest speeches,” TIME reported, “though any other orator might well have envied it.” The bar had been set high by his first appearance, on Dec. 26, 1941, when Churchill arrived in Washington to rally a disheartened nation that was still reeling from the Pearl Harbor attack three weeks earlier.

Wrote TIME:

Churchill arrived like a breath of fresh air, giving Washington new vigor, for he came as a new hero. Churchill—like Franklin Roosevelt, not above criticism at home —is, like Franklin Roosevelt in Britain, a man of unsullied popularity in his ally’s country…. There were tears in Winnie Churchill’s eyes at the ovation which greeted him, from isolationist and interventionist Congressmen alike. He shoved his thick, hornrimmed glasses over his nose, blinked, balanced himself like an old sailor. With a sly grin, he made his joke, established himself as one of the boys.

Then he let go: eloquence, blunt, polished and effective as an old knobkerrie, the growling, galling scorn for his enemies, the passages of noble purple for his friends. Between bursts of applause in which Supreme Court Justices and diplomats joined as lustily as doormen, the galleries wondered whether ever before had such a moving and eloquent speech been made on the Senate floor. Actually it was not so much the speech as the personality that put it over.

Though Churchill’s third speech was received less “lustily,” Netanyahu, who previously spoke to Congress in 1996 and 2011, might learn from the British Prime Minister’s performance that day. Despite the circumstances, and despite not accomplishing all his aims, Churchill’s visit in 1952 ultimately proved helpful.

“In spite of the very serious failure to make progress on Middle East policy,” TIME observed, “the Churchill visit was a success; it reversed the Anglo-American drift away from unity.”

Read TIME’s story about Churchill’s first speech to Congress: The U.S. at War; Great Decisions

TIME Israel

Obama Says Disagreement With Netanyahu Is Not ‘Permanently Destructive’

U.S. President Obama speaks during an interview with Reuters at the White House in Washington
Kevin Lamarque—Reuters U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during an exclusive interview with Reuters in the Library of the White House in Washington on March 2, 2015.

"This is not a personal issue"

President Barack Obama acknowledged Monday that his administration is in “substantial disagreement” with Israel’s government about how to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons but said its criticism was not “permanently destructive” to the two countries’ relationship.

Obama’s sit-down with Reuters comes ahead of Tuesday’s address to a joint session of Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vehemently opposed a deal and believes one would still leave the door open for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran continues to deny it is working to develop them.

“This is not a personal issue,” he said. “I think that it is important for every country in its relationship with the United States to recognize that the U.S. has a process of making policy.”

The President explained that his administration’s goal is to make sure “there’s at least a year between us seeing [Iran] try to get a nuclear weapon and them actually being able to obtain one” and said Iran should put any nuclear work on hold for a minimum of 10 years as a part of a to-be-reached deal.

Read more at Reuters.

TIME Israel

How Israel Sees Benjamin Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress

Israelis are divided on the prime minister's trip to Washington, just two weeks before they go to the polls

If recent history is any indication, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to receive a number of standing ovations when he speaks before Congress on Tuesday to warn lawmakers about what he predicts will be a “bad deal” on Iran’s nuclear program.

But just as members of Congress are voting with their feet whether to attend the controversial speech that the Obama administration has deemed “destructive” to U.S.-Israel ties, Israeli voters are preparing to vote with their ballots as they narrow down their choices ahead of national elections exactly two weeks later, on March 17.

The diplomatic tempest over Netanyahu’s address, which comes at the invitation of Republican House Speaker John Boehner without any coordination with the White House, is also casting a cloud over Israel’s internal debate, with politicians and pundits speaking about little else.

Some analysts say the storm of attention may actually help Netanyahu, who has built himself a reputation as “Mr. Security” since he took the premiership for the second time in 2009 (He was elected for a third term in 2013). Conservative voters who feel Israel must never compromise its defense by relying too heavily upon others believe that even the so-called “special relationship” with the United States should be kept in check. This rightist constituency likes the idea of a leader who will defy what they perceive as pressure from Washington and Europeans capitals to make concessions, whether to the Palestinians next door or to the Iranians in a deal on nuclear enrichment.

“He’s actually speaking the language this audience wants to hear,” says Professor Reuven Hazan, the chair of the political science department at the Hebrew University. “It’s beautiful politicking … Two weeks before the election he is setting the agenda on Iran, which is where he wants it, and not on housing prices. It is increasingly perceived in this audience that Obama wants to reach an agreement at all costs, and Netanyahu will get a free hour of prime time across all the networks to broadcast that message.”

But it’s not just political expediency driving Netanyahu to Washington, says Gideon Rahat, a senior associate at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem. “It’s his deep belief that Obama doesn’t understand the cruel world outside and he’s trying to be too nice.”

No matter how pure Netanyahu’s ideological motives are for speaking to Congress, the speech could end up hurting him. Critics in Israel and elsewhere say Netanyahu’s decision to speak Tuesday is turning support for Israel into a partisan issue, pitting Democrats against Republicans and threatening the relationship with Israel’s most valued ally. Among these are Commanders for Israel’s Security, a group of more than 200 retired officers who chimed into the chorus of critique over Netanyahu’s plans to address Congress against the wishes of the Obama administration. On Sunday they held a press conference at which they said Netanyahu had gone off course.

“We decided that we need to publicly give our opinion — that the prime minister’s current policy is destroying the covenant with the United States,” said Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amnon Reshef. “The way to stop a nuclear Iran is by strengthening ties between countries, between the U.S. and Israel, between Israel an the international community.”

Amiram Levin, a former northern commander in the IDF, offered that he’d known Netanyahu as a young soldier and had taught him how to navigate while serving in an elite army unit. “I tell him now, Bibi you are navigating incorrectly,” Levin said, using the prime minister’s nickname. “The target is Tehran, not Washington.”

Such censure must surely sting, but Netanyahu left for the U.S. capital Sunday smiling and insisting that his was a “fateful, even historic, mission.” Indeed, his own political fate could be determined by this speech, just days before a national ballot that he himself called when he fired several of his ministers last November. Recent polls show that his rivals in the Zionist Union, an alliance of the Labor Party under the leadership of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni of Hatnua, have a slight lead over Netanyahu’s Likud. Two centrist parties are siphoning away support from Netanyahu’s Likud base, as are parties further to the right of him led by Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman.

The strained U.S.-Israel relationship and the Iran nuclear issue are not the only factors weighing on Netanyahu’s popularity, though. The premier has suffered from a string of mini-scandals pointing to excessive spending at his official and private residences, and personal use of public funds. Meanwhile, a report released last week indicated that a housing crisis in Israel is even more severe than previously realized, and found two consecutive Netanyahu administrations coming up short on solutions. Apartment prices jumped 55% from 2008-2013, the study found.

When asked for a reaction, the prime minister immediately turned back to his favorite subject. “When we talk about housing prices, about the cost of living, I do not for a second forget about life itself,” he tweeted. “The biggest threat to our life at the moment is a nuclear-armed Iran.”

TIME Foreign Policy

Why Bibi and Barack Can’t Get Along

It would be easy but for the deep differences in policy, politics and personality.

The messy relationship between Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama began, appropriately enough, in a janitor’s office at Reagan National Airport in March 2007. U.S. and Israeli diplomats have been cleaning up ever since, as the two men have left a path littered with personal slights and policy differences.

But their confrontation over Netanyahu’s politically tinged speech to Congress Tuesday could end up being their messiest yet, affecting the outcome of U.S.-Iran nuclear talks, the upcoming election in Israel and the future of the Middle East.

Bibi and Barack’s hastily arranged first meeting was, in fact, cordial and respectful, according to those who were there. Obama was returning to Washington from the primary campaign trail. Netanyahu was headed back to Israel where he was the opposition leader in the Knesset. Both knew they might soon be in power, and both recognized it would be work to reconcile their differences.

For starters, they came from very different backgrounds. As TIME wrote in 2010, Netanyahu’s father, Benzion, was among the intellectual leaders of what is known as revisionist Zionism while his older brother became a national hero after leading, and dying in, the 1976 raid on Entebbe.

Obama for his part is the Christian son of an atheist father who had been raised a Muslim. The future president spent formative childhood years in a Jakarta house that had no refrigerator and no flushing toilet, and he still bears on his arm a scar from a playing-field cut perfunctorily stitched up in a Jakarta hospital.

But the real challenge the two have faced is their different policies in the Middle East. Obama came to office reaching out to Iran and pushing for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Netanyahu opposed warming ties with the militantly anti-Israel theocrats in Tehran and refused in early meetings with Obama publicly to embrace the possibility of a Palestinian state.

The two men have endeavored to put a positive face on their differences, and at times it wasn’t hard since they and their countries often had common interests. The two countries have collaborated on anti-Iran measures, and senior officials say the security relationship between the two countries has never been closer.

But as often as not, the combination of personal and policy differences, fueled by distrustful staffers, gave way to friction between the two men. There was the time Israel announced a massive expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem just as Vice President Joe Biden arrived there for talks—a traditional Israeli greeting for peace-process pushing U.S. diplomats that dates back at least to Secretary of State James Baker. Then there was “the Snub” —Obama’s 2010 decision to leave Netanyahu negotiating with aides in the West Wing while he went for dinner with his family.

The outcome of their latest confrontation remains to be seen. Netanyahu faces a tough election this month and the White House’s increasingly public criticism may well show their desire for a change in leadership. Netanyahu’s effort to encourage anti-Obama members of Congress to push new sanctions could help scupper the already tenuous U.S.-Iranian talks.

But even if nothing much comes of their latest confrontation, few imagine the men will ever be inclined to patch up their differences. As Netanyahu’s sometime political nemesis Avram Burg told TIME in 2010, the two men may simply be irreconcilable. “You cannot stitch together the world visions of Obama and Netanyahu,” Burg said. “This is a clash of the psychological infrastructure.”

Read next: Netanyahu Speech Becomes Applause Line for 2016 Republicans

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Foreign Policy

Netanyahu’s Approval Rating Rises in the U.S., Poll Finds

As voters back home in Israel are turned off by the prime minister seeking re-election

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is getting more popular in the U.S., according to a new poll.

Netanyahu is viewed favorably by 45% of Americans, and only 24% view him unfavorably, according to a new Gallup poll. That’s up from a 35% favorable rating in a July 2012 poll.

In Israel, however, only 41% of likely voters said they view their Prime Minister favorably as his re-election effort enters its final weeks, according to a Times of Israel poll published in February.

In the U.S., Republicans were much more likely to say they support Netanyahu than their Democratic counterparts. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans said they viewed the Prime Minister favorably, compared with about a third of Democrats.

Read More: Netanyahu: Speech Not Intended to Disrespect Obama

Netanyahu has come under fire from White House officials for planning a trip to the U.S. without consulting the State Department or working through typical diplomatic channels. The visit, facilitated by House Speaker John Boehner, will feature a controversial speech to Congress in which the Prime Minister is expected to denounce a deal proposed by President Obama to work with Iran on nuclear power.

Despite the recent criticism from Democrats, Netanyahu’s favorability numbers are an improvement from three years ago, when only half of Republicans and a quarter of Democrats said they viewed him favorably.

The margin of error for the Gallup poll was 4%, while the Times of Israel poll had a 3.4% margin of error.

TIME 2016 Election

Netanyahu Speech Becomes Applause Line for 2016 Republicans

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Travels To United States
Amos Ben Gershom—GPO/Getty Images In this handout photo provided by the Israeli Government Press Office, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah leave Tel Aviv on their way to Washington DC, on March 1, 2015.

Republican presidential candidates are using Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress as a cudgel against the White House.

The presidential candidates who are in Congress are all attending the speech, unlike Vice President Joe Biden and some Democratic lawmakers. Those who aren’t in Congress aren’t changing up their schedules to attend as private citizens but say they will watch it on television.

Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress just two weeks before the Israeli election has caused a partisan rift, with the Republicans lawmakers who invited Netanyahu on one side, and the White House and many allied Democrats on the other. Netanyahu, a vocal critic of the ongoing P5+1 Iran nuclear talks, is expected to warn against the emerging agreement.

Meanwhile neither President Obama nor Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with the Israeli leader on his visit to the U.S., as National Security Advisor Susan Rice condemned the visit as “destructive.”

At the Conservative Political Action Conference outside of Washington last week, speaker after speaker criticized the White House approach to Netanyahu.

“We need a leader who understands that when the Prime Minister and leader of our longtime ally asks to come to Congress to share his concerns about Iran, we should show him and his country our respect,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said. On Monday, Walker penned an op-ed accused Obama of making the visit a “political football.”

Last month, in a foreign policy address in Chicago, Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush endorsed the Netanyahu address, earning a thank-you tweet from Netanyahu. In an interview with an Israeli newspaper last week, he called Obama’s behavior toward Israel “completely inappropriate.”

And over the weekend, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called Netanyahu’s treatment a “national disgrace.”

Aides to Walker, Bush, Christie, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said their bosses have out-of-town commitments and cannot attend the address, but will watch Netanyahu’s remarks on television. Aides to other candidates not currently serving in Congress did not respond to a request for comment about their bosses’ plans.

“I will be there in the front row,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday. Sens. Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who are also likely running for president, will also attend.

Attendance at the speech became a partisan lightning rod as Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is set to receive an award from EMILY’s List Tuesday night in Washington, came under attack this weekend in an ad from the conservative Emergency Committee For Israel questioning her commitment to the American ally.

“Does she support the boycotters, or is she too afraid to stand up to them?” the ad states, asking whether she will attend. Clinton’s plan for the speech are not yet clear.

TIME Benjamin Netanyahu

Netanyahu: Speech Not Intended to Disrespect Obama

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed “regret” Monday that his address to a joint session of Congress has become politicized, but pledged to continue to criticize the emerging Iran nuclear agreement.

Addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, Netanyahu was greeted by the friendly audience with multiple standing ovations, saying he appreciates all that President Obama has done in support of his country.

“My speech is not intended to show any disrespect to President Obama or the esteemed office which he holds,” he said. Republicans invited Netanyahu to address Congress Tuesday without first consulting the White House in a breach of diplomatic protocol. The White House responded by refusing to meet with the Israeli leader, citing proximity to this month’s Israeli elections.

Netanyahu appeared to acknowledge that his address has become a distraction from the very talks he aims to criticize.

“You know, never has so much been written about a speech that hasn’t been given,” he quipped. Even attendance at the Tuesday speech has become controversial, with a number of Democratic lawmakers pledging to boycott.

“The last thing that I would want is for Israel to become a partisan issue, and I regret that some people have misperceived my visit here this week as doing that,” Netanyahu said.

But the Prime Minister said he would proceed with his plan to aggressively criticize the P5+1 Iran nuclear talks, which are inching closer to an agreement and he warns could “threaten the survival of Israel.”

“I have a moral obligation to speak up in the face of these dangers while there’s still time to avert them,” Netanyahu said, alluding to the Jewish people’s millennia in diaspora. “Today we are no longer silent. Today we have a voice. And tomorrow, as Prime Minister of the one and only Jewish state, I plan to use that voice.”

“Israel and the U.S. agree that Iran should not have nuclear weapons, but we disagree on the best way to prevent Iran for developing those weapons,” he added.

Before Netanyahu took the stage, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power defended the Obama Administration’s support for Israel and criticized the politicization of the alliance. Later Monday, National Security Adviser Susan Rice is set to address the pro-Israel group to deliver in-depth remarks about the Iran talks in advance of Netanyahu’s criticism.

“Debating the most effective policy both within our respective democracies and among partners is more than useful, it is a necessary part of arriving at informed decisions,” Power said, attempting to separate out the politics from the substance. “Politicizing that process is not. The stakes are too high for that.”

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