Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered an unsparing speech at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly today, taking aim at a wave of “militant Islam” that he equated with the Nazis — and going after Iran for its nuclear program and support for terrorist groups.
“We must remove this cancer before it’s too late,” he said in the opening segment of the speech.
Netanyahu also opened by drawing an equivalence between the Islamic State and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that Israel fought over a 50-day war over the summer. He claimed that “when it comes to their ultimate goals, ISIS is Hamas, and Hamas is ISIS.”
It wasn’t the only such equivalency the Israeli Prime Minister drew. “Militant Islam’s ambition to dominate the world seems mad. But so too did the global ambitions of another fanatic ideology that swept into power eight decades ago,” Netanyahu said, in clear reference to fascism and Naziism. He explained that “militant Islam” believes in a “master faith” rather than a “master race” — but isn’t totally monolithic, since there are disagreements between extremists over who that “master” should be.
Netanyahu followed the pattern of his earlier UN General Assembly speeches in singling out Iran for special criticism.
“Iran’s president Rouhani stood here last week and shed crocodile tears over what he called ‘The globalization of terrorism,'” said Netanyahu. “Maybe he should spare us those phony tears and have a word instead with the commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards,” the body responsible for assisting Iranian proxies in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.
Throughout the speech, Netanyahu referred to Iran as the Islamic State of Iran — a slight rhetorical play on the country’s official title of The Islamic Republic of Iran, and an attempt to group the country’s Shi’ite government and its revolutionary state ideology with that of the Sunni Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Also as in past years, Netanyahu brought a visual aid with him to the UN rostrum, this time using a France24 photo of children playing next to a Hamas rocket launcher in Gaza — proof, Netanyahu said, that the group was embedding its military infrastructure within civilian areas in violation of international law.
Perhaps most interestingly, Netanyahu closed his speech with an appeal to the Arab states, saying that working towards shared security objectives like the defeat of the Islamic State and an end to the Iranian nuclear program would make a peace agreement with the Palestinians more likely.
At the same time, he flirted with accusing the president of the Palestinian Authority — the person with whom he would need to reach a final peace agreement — of Holocaust denial.
“In what world does genocide involve telling the civilian population to get out of harms way … or setting up a field hospital to aid their wounded?,” Netanyahu said, referring to PA president Mahmoud Abbas’s speech to the UN last week, in which he explicitly accused Israel of genocide. “I suppose it’s the same universe where a man who wrote s dissertation of laws about hte Holocaust [see here] and insists on a Palestine free of Jews, judenrein, can stand at this podium and shamelessly accuse Israel of genocide and ethnic cleansing.”
The speech mentioned the US only once, when Netanyahu thanked President Barack Obama for his work in dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons stock. But Netanyahu still articulated a fear that Iran would “bamboozle” nuclear negotiators, an unsubtle reference to ongoing US diplomatic outreach on the issue.
The speech was a clear statement of Israeli strategy during the latter years of the Obama administration: Israel’s public and perhaps more covert diplomatic outreach is now aimed at the Arab states with which it shares immediate security concerns, and not towards the Palestinian peace process or Israel’s traditional partners in Washington.
On the former point, Netanyahu struck a defiant and some might even say undiplomatic note; on the latter, he seemed to have little interest whatsoever.
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