Netanyahu Warns Congress of Iran's 'Three Tentacles of Terror'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 3, 2015. Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned of Iran's "three tentacles of terror" on the country's borders, in a controversial address made today to the U.S. Congress which threatened to drag Israel's relationship with Washington to an all-time low.

The speech was focused on the international talks regarding Iran's nuclear programme and the potential ramifications of emboldening an Iran that is already "sponsoring terror" in the Middle East, he said.

"Iran's goons in Gaza, its lackeys in Lebanon, its revolutionary guards on the Golan Heights are clutching Israel with three tentacles of terror," he warned. "Backed by Iran, Assad is slaughtering Syrians. Backed by Iran, Shiite militias are rampaging through Iraq. Backed by Iran, Houthis are seizing control of Yemen, threatening the strategic straits at the mouth of the Red Sea."

His comments regarding Iran's influence in close proximity to the borders of Israel were focused more on delivering evidence that the country is a real threat to Israel now, rather than dealing with 'Doomsday' hypotheticals about nuclear threats, says Daniel Nisman, president of the Tel Aviv-based geopolitical risk consultancy The Levantine Group.

"Netanyahu's trying to emphasise the more practical consequences other than dropping a bomb on Tel Aviv," he says. "What he's trying to do is emphasise the regional threat of an emboldened Iran which is emboldened by the legitimacy of the nuclear deal or even nuclear weapons."

"The majority of the speech was not talking about Doomsday scenarios but talking about current scenarios that are happening on the ground right now which is Iran expanding influence across the region."

Nisman explains that in Gaza the second most-powerful militant group, the Islamic Jihad, is a "hardcore Iranian proxy", while Iran is funding Hezbollah in Lebanon and has stationed guards in the Golan Heights because of its allegiance to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

The Israeli leader was cheered repeatedly by a number of U.S. politicians in the audience and received a series of standing ovations for his remarks on the Israeli-U.S. relationship, deterring Iran from attaining capabilities for nuclear weapons and when he spoke about the threat of the Iran's desire to compete with ISIS for the "crown of militant Islam", which he described as a "deadly game of thrones".

The speech was broadcast with a delay of five minutes for millions of Israeli television and radio viewers after the Israeli Central Elections Committee ordered the lapse to allow the Israeli media to prevent the breach of propaganda laws ahead of the general election. The vote will take place on 17 March, and pits Netanyahu against centrist Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog and leader of the left-centre party Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid.

Peter Medding, professor in the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, says that Netanyahu's words about Iran's regional influence will not have a significant impact on the impending election.

"Israelis are not going to be moved by that," he says. "They all know about Gaza, they all know about Lebanon. They all know about Hamas, they all know about Hezbollah."

"Israelis understand the neighbourhood they live in is not a safe neighbourhood," he adds. "It's less of a message to the Israelis than it is to the Congress and the United States."

In a blatant snub to Netanyahu, U.S. President Barack Obama hosted a conference call with other world leaders directly in the middle of the Israeli premier's speech. The White House announced that Obama would speak to British prime minister David Cameron, French president Francois Hollande, German chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, and European Commission president Donald Tusk about a range of "global security issues" at 11.30 eastern time, half an hour into Netanyahu's address.