Netanyahu’s speech, which drew rousing applause at the pro-Israel lobby’s policy conference, suggested that the prime minister wasn’t inclined to heed U.S. calls not to attack Iran if the Israelis felt that Iran could obtain nuclear weapons.
“When it comes to Israel’s survival, we must always remain the masters of our fate,” Netanyahu said.
At their two-hour meeting and working lunch in the White House before Netanyahu’s speech Monday, the Israeli prime minister said that Israel “must have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”
“When it comes to Israel’s security, Israel has the right, the sovereign right, to make its own decisions,” he said. "I believe that's why you appreciate, Mr. President, that Israel must reserve the right to defend itself.”
Obama, who spoke at AIPAC on Sunday before the two leaders’ meeting, stressed at the White House that there is “still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution.”
He also made clear that he does not have a policy of “containment” toward Iran, and that he’s willing to use force if necessary.
“As I’ve made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests,” Obama said.
Netanyahu told the AIPAC crowd that on this point, Israel and Obama have “exactly the same policy.”
But he warned that even tougher sanctions recently passed by the United States and European Union against Iran have not slowed its nuclear efforts.
“I appreciate President Obama’s recent efforts to impose even tougher sanctions against Iran,” Netanyahu said. “And these sanctions are hurting Iran’s economy. But unfortunately, Iran’s nuclear program continues to march forward.”
Netanyahu said there is no doubt Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, and emphasized several times in his speech that he will not stand by to allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.
“As prime minister, I will never gamble with the security of the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu compared the threat to the Jewish people of a nuclear Iran to the Holocaust, noting that Iran has called for the destruction of the Jewish state. But, he said, today the Jewish people are different.
“Today we have a state of our own,” Netanyahu said, drawing his biggest applause of the night. “And the purpose of the Jewish state is to defend Jewish lives and to secure the Jewish future.”
Monday’s meeting between Obama and Netanyahu was seen as an opportunity for the two leaders to get on the same page as the two countries decide how to confront Iran. The United States, Israel and Western allies say Iran is looking to obtain nuclear weapons, while Iran says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has warned that Iran will soon enter a “zone of immunity,” where Israel will no longer be able to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Military analysts say that Monday’s meeting was an opportunity for Obama to convince Netanyahu that he will in fact act with military force if Iran pursues nuclear weapons.