Netanyahu's Congress Speech 'Most Important' of His Career

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, March 2, 2015 Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to deliver "the most important speech" of his entire career when he addresses the U.S. Congress in Washington today, according to Israeli analysts.

The Israeli leader, head of the right-wing Likud party, is set to attack the deal being negotiated between major international powers and Iran over Tehran's nuclear capabilities. The White House fears that Netanyahu will reveal details about negotiations in the Iran deal and tell U.S. lawmakers why the deal endangers Israel's security.

Netanyahu told the U.S.-Israeli lobby AIPAC yesterday that the purpose of his speech was to speak about the Iran deal and its potential to "threaten the survival of Israel" if the country were to attain the capacity to build a nuclear warhead. Experts now believe that, because of the hysteria surrounding his speech and its timing before the Israeli elections, it is an address that could define Netanyahu's political career.

"Netanyahu's speech is the most important speech for him in two ways," says Ron Gilran, expert on Israeli politics and vice-president at the Tel Aviv-based geopolitical risk consultancy The Levantine Group.

"One, he has been the carrier of this banner of being against a nuclear Iran for almost 20 years now," Gilran says. "In the end, it comes to this point right now where there's either going to be a very bad deal or there is not going to be a deal at all."

But with the Israeli general elections just two weeks away, scheduled for 17 March, the speech could also give Netanyahu the momentum he needs to defeat election rivals, centrist Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog and leader of the left-centre party Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid.

"The other way is the political way. Even if he went for the right reasons, from national reasons and not political reasons, you cannot disconnect [his visit] from the politics and from the way that it could give him some sort of momentum. In the end, everyone is going to look at the speech."

In an exclusive interview with Reuters, U.S. president Barack Obama countered Netanyahu's criticism, claiming that the Israeli leader had been wrong about previous negotiations with Iran.

"Netanyahu made all sorts of claims," he said. "This was going to be a terrible deal. This was going to result in Iran getting $50 billion worth of relief. Iran would not abide by the agreement. None of that has come true."

Both Lapid and Herzog have declined to rule out a coalition with Netanyahu if polls are too close to call but Herzog, referred to as the 'most boring man in Israeli politics' has criticised Netanyahu's trip to Washington just two weeks before the election.

"Preaching to the choir in Congress won't change a thing. And at the end of the day, it will sour the atmosphere, the relationship with the administration," he told Israel Radio last week.

"I can already tell you, the way to change what is happening in the negotiations between the coalition and Iran is through dialogue that is intensive, straightforward and intimate," he said. "Not through speeches."

However, Gilran points out that the speech is already a success for the Israeli leader because of the anticipation that's been created.

"It's already a big success for Netanyahu, the fact that everybody is waiting. Obama helped him with this," he says. "Both sides made this speech a bigger deal than it could have been and everybody is anxious now."

The speech was organised by speaker of the United States House of Representatives John Boehner, triggering stark criticism from U.S. Democrats that Obama was not consulted over the Israeli leader's visit and address.