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Netanyahu bolsters war of words against Iran in confident AIPAC speech

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to the crowd as he speaks at the 2018 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference, at Washington Convention Center, Tuesday, March 6, 2018, in Washington.
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
Netanyahu appeared surprisingly confident in his speech, despite the various corruption scandals ensnaring him

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upped the ante in his rhetorical battle against Iran on Tuesday during a barnstorming speech at the AIPAC conference in Washington, declaring that "We must stop Iran. We will stop Iran."

Fresh from pressing US President Donald Trump on Israel's grave concerns about Iran's military deployment in Syria and the future of the 2015 nuclear agreement, Netanyahu drilled the message home.

"Darkness is descending on our region. Iran is building an aggressive empire: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen, more to come."  Netanyahu ominously warned, adding that Iran was strategically setting up a military position on Israel's northern border with Syria and Lebanon. 

"We will never let Iran develop nuclear weapons, not now, not in ten years, not ever," the premiered declared to wild applause at the annual pro-Israel extravaganza.

"President Trump has made it clear that his administration will not accept Iran’s aggression in the region. He has made clear that he too will never accept a nuclear-armed Iran, and I salute President Trump on this."

Netanyahu went so far as to say that Arab countries, aside from Israel's established allies of Jordan and Egypt, would stand by Israel's side against Iran. 

"Most of the states in our region know, they know very well, believe me, that Israel is not their enemy but their indispensable ally in confronting our common challenges and seizing our common opportunities," he said. 

"That is true for Egypt and Jordan, Israel's long time peace partners, but it is also true for many other Arab countries in the Middle East."

At the same time, the prime minister made an appeal to the "brave people of Iran: their suffering, their hopes, their courage. Women are jailed for removing their hijabs. Students are tortured and shot for advocating freedom. We stand with those in Iran who stand for freedom."

Despite saying that he and Trump “didn’t spend more than 15 minutes” discussing the conflict with the Palestinians during their Oval Office talks on Monday, Netanyahu said that Israel and the United States are "committed to peace with all our neighbors including the Palestinians."

The Israeli premier addressed his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas in scathing terms, saying he "should stop paying terrorists who murder Jews," though he spoke briefly on the Palestinian issue.

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

The Palestinian Authority's payments to families of terrorists amounts to $350 million per year, Netanyahu claimed, estimating that this was 10 per cent of the PA budget.

"I believe President Abbas should find better use for this money," to build schools and hospitals, Netanyahu said. "Don’t pay death. Invest in life, invest in peace."

The Palestinian leadership severed ties with the White House after Trump's December speech recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and announcing the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem -- claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians as their capital.

In addition to praising Israel's economic and security achievements, Netanyahu described Israel's "flourishing" diplomatic relations, framing it as "coloring the world blue" while condemning those countries who lack ties with the Jewish state in an implied jab at the BDS movement.

"Countries that don't have relations with Israel -- they are going to be isolated; we will boycott them!" he exclaimed to roaring applause.

Netanyahu appeared surprisingly confident at the rally, despite the various corruption scandals ensnaring him and his family back home.

"What the heck, I'm the prime minister," Netanyahu exclaimed, opting to step away from the podium and stride across the stage as to engage the crowd throughout his speech.

He concluded by emphasizing the "alliance" between the United States and Israel in a bipartisan appeal, saying "we have forged an eternal bond that can never be broken."

The premiere spent ample time thanking AIPAC members and other patrons of Israel, while highlighting his alignment with President Trump at different points. 

As expected, he opened his address by hailing Trump for his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

"But as I told President Trump yesterday, it’s especially great to be in America’s capital now that he has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital."

After their meeting on Monday, Netanyahu said he thought Trump had shown “great interest” in his assessments of the Iran nuclear accord, which Trump has threatened to abandon if European co-signatories do not fix what he says are “disastrous flaws” in the agreement.

“The conversation lasted an hour longer than was allocated for it. A large part of it was devoted to this issue. I told him what I thought: That the nuclear agreement with Iran must be either totally fixed or totally canceled, and there were detailed discussions on this issue.”

Both Netanyahu and Trump have been vocally critical of the 2015 deal, which they argue should be amended as it has emboldened the Islamic Republic.

Netanyahu said that he had raised the issue of Iran’s entrenchment in Syria, including its proliferation of precision missiles in the country which he called “a tangible threat to Israel.”

Following his speech, Netanyahu will hold meetings with a number of US Congressmen and Senators.

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

The annual gathering of the leading pro-Israel lobby kicked off on Sunday in Washington D.C.

US Vice President Mike Pence and Washington’s envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley both addressed the conference on Monday.

Haley roused the crowd into a total of twelve standing ovations with a feisty speech in which she repeatedly praised Israel and bashed the UN for its anti-Israel “bullying”.

She also confirmed that she will attend the inauguration of the controversial new US embassy in Jerusalem in May. Trump has also raised the possibility of attending the opening, saying during remarks alongside Netanyahu on Monday: “If I can, I will.”

On Sunday, Israel’s leading opposition lawmaker Avi Gabbay made his maiden address to the conference setting himself apart from political rival Netanyahu by offering clear support for a two-state solution and Palestinian statehood.

Netanyahu has danced around the issue, telling journalists on Monday that he told Trump he has no desire to govern the Palestinians. He stopped short of backing a two-state solution or Palestinian statehood, however, saying merely that “the Palestinians should have the power of government, except the power to threaten us.”

The US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, spoke to the crowd ahead of Netanyahu on Tuesday, praising a new era in US-Israeli relations.

Friedman was very optimistic, explaining that Trump's decisions "represent a fundamental shift...in the way the US relates to its greatest ally Israel."

He took issue with use of the phrase "pro-Israel and pro-peace" protesting that it implies that champions of Israel are not necessarily in favor of peace.

"If there is no peace in the Middle East...we must blame someone other than Israel for this predicament," he exclaimed.

Read more:

Haley at AIPAC: We will not tolerate anti-Israel ‘bullying’

Pence at AIPAC: America stands with Israel today, tomorrow and always

At AIPAC, Gabbay envisions Israel alongside a 'demilitarized Palestinian state'

AIPAC chief affirms support for Palestinian statehood

Trump decisions represent "fundamental shift...in way US relates to its greatest ally" Israel.

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