Washington D.C. — In the weeks prior to the Israeli leader’s address, Netanyahu’s arrangement with Congress’s GOP leadership to assail President Obama’s Iran policies from the House floor — just two weeks before he himself faces the Israeli electorate — rendered any discussion of the Iranian deal toxic.
But now, activists feel at ease again. Armed with the talking points spelled out by Netanyahu in his March 3 speech to the joint meeting of the Senate and the House, they have relaunched their campaign against the agreement reportedly taking shape. “It’s time now to move away from procedure and focus on the substance,” said a prominent Jewish activist who came to Congress to listen to Netanyahu. “I think it will be easier now.”
The day of the speech, Capitol Hill was all but taken over by pro-Israel activists. Members of Netanyahu’s delegation mixed with Jewish leaders and with donors to pro-Israel groups who were invited to hear his talk as honored guests. Busloads of American Israel Public Affairs Committee members, fresh off their annual policy conference, also spilled into congressional office buildings, energized to lobby their representatives against an Iran deal.
Netanyahu himself, close advisers said, also emerged energized from Capitol Hill, believing that his gambit paid off. A senior Israeli official who was involved in the prime minister’s speech told reporters hours after the talk that Netanyahu succeeded in changing America’s agenda back to the Iranian issue from its focus on the war against the group Islamic State. “Without the speech, the Iranian deal would get approved not only by the White House but also by Congress,” the source said, explaining why Netanyahu’s public feud with Obama was a reasonable price to pay.
An AIPAC delegate said Netanyahu’s speech now made it easier for her and her friends to convince lawmakers to pass legislation that would halt a race to a nuclear deal. “Now everyone here knows exactly what the problems are,” she said. The AIPAC member would not give her name, stating the lobby’s guidance of not speaking to the press.
In his speech, the Israeli leader rejected the approach adopted by the United States and five other countries involved in the negotiations for ensuring that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons. The reported agreement they are developing would impose strict limits on the Islamic Republic’s enrichment of uranium, accompanied by a comprehensive regime of inspection and monitoring of the country’s nuclear facilities for an unconfirmed period reported to be 10 years.
But in his speech to Congress, Netanyahu argued that only substantial dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear facilities would prevent it from achieving a “breakout” capacity to build nuclear weapons. This, he said, should be the negotiators’ central demand for lifting sanctions against Iran. New and tougher sanctions would force Tehran to negotiate on this basis, Netanyahu claimed. He said that the negotiators’ demands should also include an end to Iran’s “aggression against its neighbors,” its support for “terrorism around the world” and its threats to “annihilate my country, Israel.”
In private conversations, the Israeli leader dismissed early warnings against delivering the speech to Congress. There was a need for a dramatic step, he said, to sound the alarm bells against the looming deal with Iran.
The senior official involved in preparing the speech used the word “galuti,” a derogatory Hebrew term for a mindset of Diaspora Jews fearing any action that could aggravate the non-Jewish rulers, when speaking about those who warned against defying Obama.