WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the annual AIPAC conference in Washington Monday, via satellite.
Netanyahu began by thanking US Vice President Joe Biden for his strong statement of support for Israel.
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Quipping, he began his address by saying, "Well, as you know, I was hoping to speak to you in person, but unfortunately, I had to stay in Israel to do something a lot more enjoyable: putting together a coalition government. What fun! If I can offer a free piece of advice, don't adopt Israel's system of government."
The prime minister said that "Despite the difficulties, I intend to form a strong and stable government in the days ahead," and by the time US President Barack Obama arrives in Israel, later in March.
"The first thing that my new government will have the privilege of doing is to warmly welcome President Obama to Israel. I look forward to the president's visit. It will give me an opportunity, along with the people of Israel, to express our appreciation for what he has done for Israel."
According to Netanyahu, the visit will focus on three major issues: The Iranian threat, the escalating situation in Syria and its potential effects on Israel, and the need to reignite the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
"Together with President Obama we will work for peace."
'Diplomacy has failed'
Turning his attention to the Iranian threat, Netanyahu said that "Iran has made it clear that it will continue to defy the will of the international community.
"Time after time the world's leading powers have tabled diplomatic proposals to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue peacefully. But I have to tell you the truth. Diplomacy has not worked. Iran ignores all these offers. It's running out the clock. It has used negotiations, including the most recent ones, to buy time to press ahead with its nuclear program."
Tehran, he continued, remains unfazed by the financial sanctions imposed by the West: "Thus far, the sanctions have not stopped the nuclear program. The sanctions have hit the Iranian economy hard, that is true. But Iran's leaders, well, they just grit their teeth and they move forward.
"Iran enriches more and more uranium. It installs faster and faster centrifuges… Iran is getting closer to that red line, and it's putting itself in a position to cross that line very quickly once it decides to do so.
"To prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, we cannot allow Iran to cross that red line. We have to stop its nuclear enrichment program before it's too late.
"Words alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military threat if diplomacy and sanctions fail."
The prime minister, echoing in a way Biden's words, said that "Israel must be able to defend itself by itself. The rebirth of Israel is one of the greatest events in history. We shall always defend the one and only Jewish state."
'Terror groups eyes Syria's WMDs'
Netanyahu then turned his attention to Syria, saying that alongside the humanitarian crisis the civil war has caused, "Syria could soon become a strategic crisis of monumental proportions."
The prime minister warned of the threat posed by the possibility that terror groups, especially Hezbollah , might get their hands on Syrian President Bashar Assad's arsenal of chemical weapons – considered the largest in the world.
"Syria has chemical weapons, anti-aircraft weapons and many other of the world's most deadly and sophisticated arms. And as the Syrian regime collapses, the danger of these weapons falling into the hands of terrorist groups is very real.
"Terror groups such as Hezbollah and al-Qaeda are trying to seize these weapons as we speak… These terror groups are committed to Israel's destruction.
"This is why we have a common interest in preventing them from obtaining these deadly weapons. I know that here too President Obama fully appreciates Israel's need to defend itself."
'Peace must be grounded in reality'
Israel and the United States both seek to find a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu told the Washington conference.
"Israel seeks a peace with our Palestinian neighbors, a peace that will end our conflict once and for all. Now, that peace must be grounded in reality, and it must be grounded in security. Israel withdrew from Lebanon. We withdrew from Gaza. We gave up territory. We got terror. We cannot allow that to happen a third time."
Israel, he stressed, "Is prepared for a meaningful compromise. But as Israel's prime minister, I will never compromise on our security. We must work together to find a realistic path forward. And I think that path has to be a measured, step-by-step process in which we work to advance a verifiable, durable and defensible peace."
Reuters contributed to this report
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