Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu Delights AIPAC Audience With Tour of ‘The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful’
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered an accomplished solo performance at the 2018 AIPAC Policy Conference on Tuesday morning, guiding a cheering, whooping audience of 18,000 through his vision of a country, a region and a world currently encircled by the “good, the bad, and the beautiful.”
It was a dramatic contrast with Netanyahu’s last personal appearance before AIPAC, in 2015. On that occasion, he stood behind the podium wearing a stern expression, pointedly reassuring his audience that the alliance between the US and Israel remained strong “despite occasional disagreements.” But on Tuesday, Netanyahu gave the impression of a man who was thoroughly enjoying himself, leaving the AIPAC lectern to prowl the stage, while screens behind him lit up with maps, charts and images in the style of a TED talk.
Most significantly, perhaps, the majority of Netanyahu’s speech focused not on what he termed the “bad” — the continued threat to Israel from Iran and its proxies — but on the “good”: Israel’s culture of innovation, and its harnessing of “free market principles” to both create and share wealth.
Pointing out that while in 2006, only one of the world’s ten biggest companies was in the technology sector, a radiating Netanyahu announced that a little more than a decade on, five of those companies were now tech companies. Apple, Google, Microsoft and “hundreds of other technology companies” operated “major research centers” in Israel, he said.
Acknowledging a brief slip into jargon, Netanyahu went on to speak of the economic and diplomatic benefits to Israel brought about by “the confluence of big data, connectivity and artificial intelligence.”
“It revolutionizes old industries and it creates entirely new industries,” Netanyahu said, using as an example the “precision agriculture” pioneered in Israel that deploys drone technology to drip-feed exactly the right amount of irrigation to a specific plant. He related that farmers in India had thanked him for Israeli technology that saw their crop yields increase by “three time, four times, five times!”
Highlighting Israel’s cutting edge cyber-security sector, a still-beaming Netanyahu observed that despite containing only “1/10th of 1 percent of the world’s population,” Israel is nevertheless the destination for “20 percent of global private investment in cyber-security.”
“We’re punching 200 times above our weight,” Netanyahu declared. “That’s one heck of a punch.”
That punch, the Israeli prime minister made clear, was also reflected in his country’s military prowess. “Israel has never been stronger militarily, we’re tremendously strong,” he said, as he paid tribute to the soldiers and officers — “Jews, Christians, Muslims, Circassians” – of the IDF. He emphasized Israel’s critical role in gathering global counter-terrorism intelligence, showing as an example a plane belonging to the United Arab Emirates’ airline, Etihad. As the Australian government readily acknowledged on Feb. 22, it was Israeli intelligence that foiled an ISIS plot last July, Netanyahu said, to blow up an Etihad airliner flying from Sydney to Abu Dhabi.
Back at the lectern, Netanyahu then turned to the “bad,” explaining that “the force behind so much of what is bad is this radical tyranny in Iran.”
Arguing that his warning against the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran had subsequently been vindicated, Netanyahu said that the lifting of sanctions on Tehran had made the ruling regime “more extreme, more belligerent and more dangerous.” A map behind him showing the spread of Iranian influence shrouded the outlines of Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza in black. “Iran wants permanent military bases in Syria…it wants to build precision-guided missile factories in Syria and Lebanon,” Netanyahu stated. “We won’t let that happen.”
On the Palestinian front, Netanyahu effusively praised US President Donald Trump’s Dec. 6, 2017 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He said that he had told Trump at their meeting on Monday that it “was especially great to be in America’s capital, now that he has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.” While declaring his desire for peace with all of Israel’s neighbors, “including the Palestinians,” Netanyahu had no words of comfort for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, lambasting him for spending an annual sum of $350 million — almost 10 percent of the PA’s annual budget — on so-called “martyr payments” to convicted terrorists and their families.
In that regard, Netanyahu paid special tribute to the passage through the US Congress of the Taylor Force Act, remarking that it demonstrated “America’s zero tolerance for terrorism.” From there, he progressed to a heady embrace of the “shared values” of the US and Israel, founded upon biblical inspiration, that were the “wellspring” of the “beautiful…the beautiful alliance between the United States of America and Israel.”
America and Israel, Netanyahu reflected, shared a common story of “freedom, justice, peace and hope.” With those words still hanging, Netanyahu left the stage to the thunderous applause of an AIPAC crowd that departs this year’s Policy Conference with the message that while the bad will probably get worse, the good will definitely get better.