A defiant Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Israel will continue to stand up for its right to exist against the growing threat posed by Iran, and defended his controversial Tuesday speech to Congress as a chance to warn America that this threat is growing.
"For 2,000 years, my people, the Jewish people, were stateless, defenseless, voiceless. We were utterly powerless against our enemies, who swore to destroy us," Netanyahu said at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual policy conference in Washington.
"No more!" he said to applause. "The days when the Jewish people are passive in the face of threats to annihilate us — those days are over."
Netanyahu said his Tuesday speech before a joint session of Congress is a chance to warn America that Iran needs to be checked even today, and that Iran would become an even larger problem with nuclear weapons.
"We must not let that happen," he said of the possibility of Iran obtaining those weapons.
"I plan to speak about an Iranian regime that is threatening to destroy Israel, that's devouring country and after country in the Middle East, that's exporting terror throughout the world, and that is developing, as we speak, the capacity to make nuclear weapons, lots of them," he said.
The Obama administration continues to try to negotiate an agreement with Iran to stop its nuclear program, and that effort has been criticized by many who say it's doomed to fail, and will only give Iran more time to advance its research. Netanyahu didn't talk specifically about those negotiations, but indicated Israel too is a critic, and said tactical disagreements between the U.S. and Israel are common.
He said he believes those differences are borne out of the differences between the United States, the world's most powerful nation, and Israel, a powerful but much smaller country surrounded by enemies.
"American leaders worry about the security of their country, Israeli leaders worry about the survival of their country," he said.
Still, Netanyahu this issue and others by saying the U.S. and Israel are capable of having "family" disputes without weakening the relationship.
"Israel and the United States will continue to stand together because America and Israel are more than friends, we're like a family," he said. "We're practically mishpucha."
"Disagreements in the family are always uncomfortable, but we must always remember that we are family," he said.
Another one of those family disagreements has been the very fact that Netanyahu will deliver a speech on Congress on Tuesday. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) invited Netanyahu to speak without any consultation with Democrats. In turn, many Democrats have said they won't attend, and the White House has said the U.S. should not be seen as favoring any foreign leader so close to a national election.
The domestic U.S. fight over the speech has led some to criticize Netanyahu for fueling a partisan battle that could hurt Israel's interests. But Netanyahu dismissed this idea and said his appearance should not be seen as one that creates a partisan divide.
"The last thing that anyone who cares about Israel, the last thing that I would want, is for Israel to become a partisan issue, and I regret that some people have misperceived my visit here this week as doing that," he said. "Israel has always been a bipartisan issue, Israel should always remain a bipartisan issue."
He also praised the aid that President Barack Obama has delivered to Israel.
"I deeply appreciate all that President Obama has done for Israel," he said. "Security cooperation, intelligence sharing, support at the U.N., and much more, some things that I, as Prime Minister of Israel, cannot even divulge to you because it remains in the realm of things that are kept between an American president and an Israeli Prime Minister."
"I am deeply grateful for this support, and so should you be," he said.