While most members of Congress applauded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address on Tuesday, his words met very different reactions in the two other countries paying close attention: Israel and Iran.
In the speech, Netanyahu warned that “a much better deal” was crucial to preventing Iranian access to a nuclear bomb, and that the current “bad deal” on the table was worse than no deal at all.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, went so far as to call it “boring,” though also referring to Israel as a “child-slaughtering regime” for good measure. And an Iranian news report on the speech countered Netanyahu’s claims that the current American terms for the deal would pave the way to a nuclear weapons, by rejecting the “unfounded accusation that Tehran is pursuing non-civilian objectives in its nuclear program.”
In Israel, where Netanyahu faces electoral pressure in two short weeks, his potential rivals were all quick to issue criticism. Labor party leader Isaac Herzog dismissed the potential impact of the speech, saying that “after the applause, Netanyahu was left alone” and that “Israel was left isolated.” Centrist candidate Yair Lapid warned on Monday night that the speech would “cause damage to the security interests of the state of Israel” and alienate American policymakers from seeking Israeli input on the final terms of a deal.
Lapid and Tzipi Livni, Herzog’s high-profile campaign partner, were both ministers in Netanyahu’s coalition government before they were dramatically fired in December, triggering the election season. (RELATED: Will Netanyahu Remain Israel’s Prime Minister?)
With Netanyahu neck-and-neck against his rivals in the polls, Israeli voters mostly seemed glad to see their prime minister addressing the United States in English and receiving a standing ovation in return. As the Brookings Institute’s Natan Sachs pointed out on Tuesday, Netanyahu benefits from moving the political discussion toward national security and away from his opponents’ mainstays of economic well-being.
But the Israelis with perhaps the most personally at stake, Jews with family ties to Iran, were nonplussed. According to BuzzFeed News, a Persian-Israeli restaurant owner sneered that Netanyahu is “more popular in D.C. than he is in Jerusalem these day,” she said. “It’s been 10 years that he tells us he will stop Iran and he’s still saying it.”
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