More than a month after House Speaker John Boehner issued his fateful invitation, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed a packed Congress Tuesday.
Watch full speech:
Entering to rapturous and extended applause, the Israeli PM made his way through a sea of legislators, shaking hands and exchanging words before ascending the podium to cheers.
"I am deeply honored... to be invited to speak before the most important legislative body in the world," Netanyahu began.
Acknowledging the controversy surrounding his speech, the PM reiterated that it as never his intention to offend the White House.
"The remarkable alliance between Israel and the United States has always been above politics, and it must remain above politics," he said.
Netanyahu began by thanking American presidents "from Harry Truman to Barack Obama." Despite the media hype, President Obama had remained a loyal ally to Israel, he insisted.
"We appreciate all that President Obama has done for Israel. Some of that is widely known like strengthening security cooperation and intelligence sharing, opposing anti-Israel resolutions in the United Nations."
"Some of what he has done is less known," the PM continued, for example the emergency aid Obama sent to Israel during the devastating 2010 Carmel forest fire, or during the siege of Israel's embassy in Cairo - as well as approving emergency support for Israel's missile defense systems during last summer's Gaza war.
Turning to the threats faced by Israel and the US, Netanyahu referred to the story of Purim, the upcoming Jewish festival (starting this Wednesday night) which celebrates the Jewish people's deliverance from a plot to annihilate them by the viceroy of the ancient Persian empire.
"We are an ancient people. In our nearly 4,000 years of history many have tried repeatedly to destroy the Jewish people," he continued.
Invoking the Purim story, he noted how Queen Esther saved the Jewish people from annihilation by exposing the Persian plot. "Today the Jewish people face another attempt... to destroy us" from Persia, today's Iran.
"Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei spews the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism with the newest technology," he added.
But Iran is not just a Jewish problem, he cautioned, comparing it to the Nazi regime during World War Two. The six million Jews murdered in the holocaust "were only a fraction" of the victims of the Nazis, he noted.
Iran is strangling the Middle East with its "tentacles," seeking to export its Islamic revolution from Lebanon and Gaza to Yemen, he added, further noting how just last week an Iranian military exercise simulated an attack on a US naval vessel, and that Iran now effectively controls four Arab capitals: Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana'a.
"We must all stand together to stop Iran's march of conquest, subjugation and terror."
Despite claims to the contrary, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is no moderate, and the regime is "as radical as ever," he said.
Under Rouhani, Tehran still "hangs gays, persecutes journalists and executed more prisoners than ever before."
Islamic Republic and Islamic State
Netanyahu urged America not to be fooled by Iran's fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group, noting that they really represent two sides of the same coin: the former, Shia Islamism and the latter, Sunni Islamism.
"Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam - one calls itself the Islamic Republic, one calls itself the Islamic State."
Both seek to build an Islamic empire, he continued, "They just disagree among themselves who should rule that empire."
"Christians, Jews and Muslims who don't share the Islamist... creed" all face a common threat from both, he emphasized. "When it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy!"
Iran, however, poses a greater threat, given that while ISIS "is armed with butcher's knives, captured weapons and YouTube," Iran already possesses a powerful military and is well on its way to achieving nuclear weapons.
"The greatest threat facing our world is the marriage of radical Islam and nuclear weapons," he declared. "To defeat ISIS and allow Iran to get nuclear weapons would be to win the battle and lose the war - we can't let that happen!"
"But that is exactly what could happen if the deal now being negotiated is accepted by Iran," he continued, moving on to the central issue of his address: the looming "bad deal" with Iran.
"That deal will not prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, it would all but guarantee" it.
In a possible nod to recent warnings by Secretary of State John Kerry not to publicize secret details of the deal under discussion, Netanyahu focused on the details that "are now a matter of public record...you can Google it."
Two key concessions to Iran granting them the nuke
"Absent of dramatic change we know for sure that any deal with Iran" would include two key concessions, which Netanyahu insisted would pave the way for a "nuclear nightmare."
The first concession was that Iran would essentially retain all the nuclear infrastructure it had managed to build until now. "According to the deal not a single nuclear facility would be demolished," leaving the centrifuges spinning, he said.
Even having paused it's nuclear program, Iran's nuclear breakout time is currently "about a year by US assessment, even shorter by Israeli assessment," and "could still get shorter."
"True, certain restrictions would be imposed to Iran's nuclear program," he conceded, but inspectors "document violations, they don't stop them."
"Inspectors knew North Korea were on their way to the bomb...that didn't stop anything," he pointed out.
Iran has already defied inspectors on three occasions, and will continue to do so, he added, noting that "Iran was caught twice operating secret nuclear facilities in Natanz and Qom" that inspectors never knew about. "Iran has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted."
The second concession was even more dangerous, said Netanyahu; namely, that after a decade Iran would be allowed to restart its program and "legitimately" acquire nuclear weapons.
"A decade might seem like a long time in political life, but it's the blink of an eye in the life of a nation, in the life of our children," he warned.
"The foremost sponsor of global terrorism could be weeks away from...an entire arsenal of nuclear weapons?" he asked rhetorically.
The PM dismissed hopes that Iran would change its aggressive ways as the result of such concessions. "Would Iran fund less terrorism, when it has more money?"
Rather, "Iran will become even more aggressive, will sponsor even more terrorism" if it gets nuclear weapons - and provoke a nuclear arms race in the region, he warned.
"A deal that's supposed to prevent nuclear proliferation would instead provoke a nuclear arms race in the most dangerous region in the world...the Middle East would be crisscrossed by nuclear crosswires."
It would spell the "countdown to a potential nuclear nightmare."
The possibility of a good deal
The way out was not war, Netanyahu cautioned, but determination to uphold the existing sanctions regime until Iran yields, setting three key conditions he insisted should be met by Tehran.
"First, stop its aggression against its neighbors in the Middle East; second, stop supporting terrorism around the world; and third stop threatening to annihilate my country Israel, the one and only Jewish state!"
"At the very least," the deal "should insist that Iran changes its behavior before the deal expires," he added. "If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country."
Iran's nuclear program can still be rolled back, he insisted, urging western negotiators to call Tehran's bluff if it threatens to walk away. "They need the deal a lot more than you do!"
Despite the difficulties, he urged the US to maintain its resolve. "Standing up to Iran is not easy. Standing up to dark and murderous regimes never is."
Whatever happens, however, Netanyahu vowed that Israel would do whatever it took to defend itself against the Iranian threat.
Turning to Nobel Laureate and Nazi hunter Eli Wiesel, and echoing his own words at AIPAC's Policy Conference yesterday, he pledged: "The days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies - those days are over!"
"We've restored our sovereignty in our homeland... for the first time in two thousand years we the Jewish people can defend ourselves.
"Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand. But I know that Israel does not stand alone - I know that America stands with Israel; I know that you stand with Israel."
The prime minister ended his address with a quote from Moses, given prior to the Jewish people's entrance into the land of Israel after centuries of slavery in Egypt and decades wandering in the desert.
"Be strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them," he repeated, in Hebrew and English. "May Israel and America stand together, strong and resolute.
"May God bless the State of Israel and may God bless the United States of America."
An historic speech
Although the content of the speech was kept tightly under wraps, in the past few weeks Netanyahu had made it clear that he will outline his case against what Israel insists is a looming "bad deal" with Iran, which would leave the Islamic regime as a nuclear threshold state - able to build a nuclear bomb at the time of its choosing.
Departing from Israel on Sunday, Netanyahu described his trip as "a critical mission, even an historic one."
"I feel like an emissary of all of Israel, even those who do not agree with me," he said, adding that "I sense a deep angst for the fate of Israel; I will do everything to assure our future."
But while most members of Congress - along with millions of viewers around the world - will be watching and listening closely, others are boycotting the speech.
Nearly one in four Congressmen have said they will not be present for the speech, including Vice President Joe Biden, and US Secretary of State John Kerry will not even be watching it - although aids say he will be briefed afterwards.
The controversy is due to accusations the invitation (and Netanyahu's acceptance) were not properly coordinated with the White House and thus breached protocol, claims Boehner and Netanyahu deny.
More significantly, critics have claimed the address is essentially a slap in the face for the Obama Administration, whose softly-softly approach towards Iran Netanyahu is expected to criticize.
But speaking at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference yesterday, Netanyahu denied any offense was meant, insisting that he was only making the address because he believed the survival of Israel is at stake.
"My speech is not meant to show any disrespect for President (Barack) Obama or for the office that he holds, I have great respect for both," Netanyahu said,
"For 2,000 years my people, the Jewish people, were stateless, voiceless... we suffered relentless persecution and horrific attacks...and we could not defend ourselves. Well, no more! The days when the Jewish people are passive in the face of threats to annihilate us, those days are over!"