High drama and low politics at the United Nations

On Monday last week, President Obama spoke for 45 minutes at the UN in New York. In his speech, he laid out his view of the world, covered more than a dozen subjects, extolled the virtues of democracy, and dealt at length with the problems of the Middle East. But he didn’t once mention beleaguered Israel. On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu also spoke to the UN. His speech did mention the United States and included the obligatory reference to the “unshakeable” alliance between Israel and the United States. Otherwise, it did not make for pleasant listening in Washington. The nuclear deal the US had concluded with Iran had placed constraints on Tehran but also provided for lifting them, whether in 10 or 15 years, which would place “a militant Islamic terror regime weeks away from having the fissile material for an entire arsenal of nuclear bombs”.  In addition, it had granted Tehran hundreds of billions of dollars worth of sanctions relief with which to finance its international operations. This just made no sense. One of history’s most important lessons, Netanyahu pointed out, was that the best of intentions didn’t prevent the worst outcomes.

The Prime Minister then lifted up a copy of Ayatollah Khamenei’s latest book which detailed his plan to destroy the state of Israel. It had appeared just days after the nuclear deal was announced. In September, Netanyahu pointed out, the Supreme Leader had addressed Iran’s top clerical body and had pledged “there will be no more Israel in 25 years”. And just a week ago, the commander of the Iran’s army had said the army was glad to be “in the forefront of executing the Supreme Leader’s order to destroy Israel”. “We will annihilate Israel for sure”, he had said.

Glaring out at the General Assembly, many seats empty, others kept warm by junior staffers, the Prime Minister of Israel declared: Seventy years after the murder of six million Jews, Iran’s rulers promise to destroy my country. Murder my people. And the response from this body, the response from nearly every one of the governments represented here has been absolutely nothing! Utter silence! Deafening silence! In a moment of high drama, Netanyahu stood silently for 45 seconds, letting the message sink in, before resuming his speech. Perhaps you can now understand why Israel is not joining you in celebrating this deal. If Iran’s rulers were working to destroy your countries, perhaps you’d be less enthusiastic about the deal.

It’s not known whether the Israeli delegation at the UN provided its US counterpart with an advance copy of the speech, a traditional courtesy among close allies. What is known is that Secretary of State John Kerry and the US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power missed Netanyahu’s speech. According to a State Department official, Obama had summoned them both to a video conference.

 

 

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