Netanyahu Says Speech To Congress Helped

YERUSHALAYIM -
Israelis gather at a campaign rally, calling for replacement of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Motzoei Shabbos. Some 50,000 people took part in the rally, according to local media.  (REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
Israelis gather at a campaign rally, calling for replacement of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Motzoei Shabbos. Some 50,000 people took part in the rally, according to local media. (REUTERS/Amir Cohen)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu suggested on Sunday that his speech to a joint session of Congress has helped to slow the international rush into what he considers a bad deal with Iran.

Speaking before the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said, “After my speech in Congress, we heard over the weekend from the foreign ministers of a number of world powers that they are not compelled to reach a deal as soon as possible. I hope that these comments will be reflected in their actions.”

Secretary of State John Kerry said over the weekend after talks with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius that he did not feel a sense of urgency to get any deal with Iran, saying, “We have to get the right deal.”

Kerry said that the United States and France are “on the same page” that the nuclear deal under discussion with Iran needs to be strengthened.

Netanyahu reiterated on Sunday that “a good deal” will require a halt of Iran’s terror activity and threats to destroy Israel before any easing of sanctions or restrictions.

A good deal will increase the breakout time Iran needs to get a bomb to a number of years, he said, noting that the current version of the deal being will give Iran a breakout time of a year, if not less. “This is based on Israeli intelligence and military assessments that we have communicated to the world powers,” he said.

Whatever the expectations may have been that Netanyahu’s speech would boost his re-election prospects, a Panels Research poll taken late last week indicated that such was not the case.

If the March 17 election were held now, the Zionist Camp would beat the Likud, 24 Knesset seats to 22, the poll found. In last week’s survey, the Zionist Camp received 25 seats and Likud 23.

But then on Sunday, a Geocartography poll registered a significant gain for Likud, up to 26 seats, versus 21 for the Herzog-Livni camp, and Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home coming in third with 13.

Analysts say that neither Netanyahu nor his rivals can expect to have an easy time of coalition–building, and that the likely solution would be a unity government. Negev and Galilee Development Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) told Israel Radio that he hoped the Zionist Camp would join a Likud-led government.

Likud faction chairman Ze’ev Elkin called the chances of a unity government “50-50.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu took a hit from former head of the Mossad Meir Dagan, who was the featured speaker at a mass rally calling for a change of leadership in Tel Aviv on Motzoei Shabbos.

Dagan, who has been an outspoken critic of the prime minister since leaving the Mossad, told a gathering of some 50,000 that Netanyahu poses an existential threat to Israel, even more than Iran does.

“Israel is a nation surrounded by enemies, but I am not afraid of enemies,” Dagan said.

“I am frightened by our leadership. I am afraid because of the lack of vision and loss of direction. I am frightened by the hesitation and the stagnation. And I am frightened, above all else, from a crisis in leadership. It is the worst crisis that Israel has seen to this day,” he declared.

Dagan maintains that the prime minister’s assessment of the Iranian threat is incorrect, and that the appearance before Congress was “a political speech that caused diplomatic and defense damage to Israel.” While Dagan acknowledges that a nuclear-armed Iran is an “almost intolerable threat” to Israel, he believes that Netanyahu’s handling of the issue has been counterproductive in stopping the Islamic Republic from getting the bomb.