Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stepped down from power Sunday, vowing to fight on.
Netanyahu, who was brought to bay by a wide-ranging, fragile coalition of parties across the political spectrum, was succeeded by Naftali Bennett, a right-wing politician who will serve the first two years of a four-year term before handing over power to the more liberal Yair Lapid, who will then finish the term, according to NPR.
Bennett used his first speech to promote unity and collaboration.
“Twice in history, we have lost our national home precisely because the leaders of the generation were not able to sit with one and another and compromise. Each was right, yet with all their being right, they burnt the house down on top of us,” Bennett said, according to CNN. “I am proud of the ability to sit together with people with very different views from my own.”
Netanyahu brought a harsh, uncompromising tone to his final speech as prime minister. He said said Israel must stand its ground and not bow to international pressure.
“We have turned Israel into a global power,” he said, according to a transcript of his speech posted on Rev.com. “We’ve done this not by surrendering to international pressure, not out of weakness. We did this out of power.”
Netanyahu noted that under his leadership, Israel “fought with determination against Iran’s attempts to acquire nuclear weapons, even [if] we had to stand alone, completely alone, against the whole world and many in Israel. This determination effected the previous American administration to leave the dangerous nuclear deal.”
Netanyahu said dealing with Iran is the greatest challenge Israel faces going forward.
“It’s not a secret the United States plans very soon to return to the dangerous agreement which my colleagues and I completely oppose,” he said.
“I want to tell you, the American administration asked me not to publicly air our disagreements on these matters. We have disagreements. They asked us to keep them discreet,” he said.
“The new American administration asked me to keep our disagreements on the nuclear thing, and I’ll tell you why,” he said, according to the transcript. “Because the lessons of history are in front of my eyes. In 1944, at the height of the Holocaust, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt refused to bomb the railway leading to the extermination camps, and refused to bomb the gas chambers, which could have saved millions of our people. We hoped for others to save us, and they didn’t come. In the face of the threat of extermination, we were helpless,” he said.
Noting that unlike then, when “[w]e had neither a state or an army,” he said that “today we do have a voice. We do have a state, and we do have defensive power.”
The departing prime minister said he recently told American Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, “‘As the prime minister of Israel, I shall do everything to oppose an agreement that will lead to the nuclear armament of Iran.’ And I will oppose the agreement that you are proposing both publicly and operationally.”
Netanyahu indicated that even though he is not prime minister, he will use the political power he still has to push for action to stop Iran, regardless of what the Biden administration thinks.
“I hope very much that we won’t get to this. If I have to choose between a tension between us and abolishing an existential threat to Israel, then abolishing the growing threat with an agreement or without an agreement,” he said, according to the transcript, adding that he fears his successor will be too weak to stand up to Iran.
“An Israeli prime minister must be able to say ‘no’ to the president of the United States on matters that endanger our existence, and to back this up with massive work in Congress, in the Senate, and in public opinion, into the greatest democracy, which is the United States.”
Netanyahu said Israel’s new government will limply stand by as the Biden administration cozies up to Iran.
“I’m telling you, from the moment the United States returns to the nuclear deal with Iran, the incoming government will not authorize meaningful operations inside Iran in order to prevent its continued armament,” he said.
“At most, they will make a few limp remarks for protocol, or say a few meaningless things behind the scenes of no value. A government that is incapable of standing up forcefully against the international community on matters that are fateful for us is not worthy of leading Israel even for a single day. That is the incoming government,” he said.
“Iran understands this, too. No wonder they’re celebrating there today. They know that were it not for the efforts that we led, Iran would have had an arsenal of nuclear weapons long ago with the objective of eliminating us. Iran is celebrating because it understands that from today there will be a weak and limp government that will align itself with the dictates of the international community,” he said.
Netanyahu closed with a characteristic show of resistance.
“I tell you today, do not be downhearted. Stand tall. We shall continue to work together for our beloved country. I am with you, friends, daily battle against this bad, dangerous, left-wing government, to topple it. And with God’s help, it will happen much sooner than you think,” he said.
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