Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to deliver a fiery address to the United Nations on Thursday calling on the international community to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
The speech, aimed as much at the Obama administration as the Israeli public, is expected to lay down for the first time in detail the “red lines” that Israel will not allow Iran to cross, the Israeli newspaper Maariv reported Tuesday.
The Israeli leader has been engaged in an election-year pressure campaign to convince the Obama administration to set out its own red lines for Iran, which if crossed would provoke a joint strike by the U.S. and Israel.
The escalating rhetoric has turned Netanyahu, a longtime friend and brief colleague of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney three decades ago, into a significant player in the U.S. election, where Jewish voters in states such as Florida are crucial to both campaigns.
Netanyahu on Wednesday promised to respond in kind to a provocative speech Tuesday by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — whose address happened to be scheduled on Yom Kippur, the Jewish faith’s day of atonement.
“On the day when we pray to be inscribed in the book of life, a platform was given to a dictatorial regime that strives, at every opportunity, to sentence us to death,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
“In my remarks to the UN General Assembly, they will hear my response,” he promised. “History has proven that those who have wanted to wipe us off the map have failed, as the Jewish people have overcome all obstacles.”
Ahmadinejad drew applause from the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday with his call for a new world order that denounced “continued threats by the uncivilized Zionist to resort to military action against our great nation.”
A day earlier, Obama had sought to assuage Israeli concerns and put Iran on notice with his U.N. address.
“Let me be clear: America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe that there is still time and space to do so. But that time is not unlimited,” Obama said.
The president then warned that “the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
The backdrop for Netanyahu’s speech is a presidential campaign between Obama and Romney that for the past several weeks has been focused on foreign policy, the Middle East and Obama’s relationship with Netanyahu.
Romney and other Republicans have criticized Obama’s decision not to hold a face-to-face meeting with the Israeli leader on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly, and have noted the president found time to sit down for an interview with the television program “The View.”
Netanyahu’s government has also tweaked Obama. On Tuesday, the official Israeli government Twitter account retweeted an article in the Times of Israel that compared Obama unfavorably with former President Bill Clinton.
The story quoted an anonymous Israeli government official as saying Clinton made Israel feel like “he had our back,” while “Obama doesn’t give us the same sense that he’d be there.”
Netanyahu’s criticism of Obama hasn't escaped the attention of U.S. lawmakers, who perceive an effort by the Israeli leader to help Romney. Jewish Democrats in particular have asked Netanyahu to butt out of the race.
“'I didn't think it was appropriate for the prime minister to publicly get into a dispute with the president of the United States,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) told The Hill last week, “since we're both very closely working together to impose sanctions and to force Iran to stop its development of a nuclear weapon.”
The back-and-forth has only built up the anticipation for Netanyahu’s address on Thursday.
The escalating war of words comes despite U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's call for all parties to refrain from threatening each other.
“I also reject both the language of delegitimization and threats of potential military action by one state against another,” Ban said in his opening remarks. “Any such attacks would be devastating. The shrill war talk of recent weeks has been alarming — and should remind us of the need for peaceful solutions and full respect for the U.N. Charter and international law.”
Also Thursday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to call on the U.N. to recognize Palestine as an observer state, a move opposed by the United States and Israel because they want Palestine to gain statehood only as part of a negotiated settlement. Abbas has said he'll put off his bid, which failed last year amid U.S. opposition, until after the November election.