(Reuters) – Israeli Prime Benjamin Netanyahu took his campaign against a nuclear deal with Iran to Jerusalem’s sacred Western Wall on Saturday, on the eve of his departure to Washington to address Congress on the issue.
His rare pilgrimage to one of Judaism’s holiest sites was highly symbolic — and political — an apparent attempt by Netanyahu, two weeks before a national election, to portray a U.S. visit, that has brought relations with Washington to a new low, as crucial to Israel’s survival.
Using the perimeter wall of the destroyed Biblical Jewish temple as a backdrop and wearing a black skullcap, he said: “The agreement being formed between Iran and the powers, can endanger our existence.
“In the face of such an agreement we must unite and explain the dangers it poses to Israel, to the region and to the entire world.”
Netanyahu has come under almost unprecedented criticism from the U.S. administration and in Israel for his planned speech to Congress on Tuesday, as international talks with Iran are under way to secure a deal on Teheran’s nuclear program.
Washington hopes a deal with Iran will ensure the Islamic Republic is unable to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran denies it has any nuclear arms program and often points out that Israel is apparently the only country in the region with such weapons.
On Wednesday U.S. officials questioned Netanyahu’s judgment and said his outspoken condemnation of efforts to reach an Iranian deal had injected destructive partisanship into U.S.-Israeli ties.
“I respect U.S. President Barack Obama,” Netanyahu said at the Western Wall where earlier he placed his palms on the stones in whose crevices faithful place written messages to God.
“I believe in the strength of Israel’s relations with the U.S. and through them we shall overcome these differences, as well as those to come,” he said.
Republicans who control Congress invited Netanyahu without consulting Obama or other leading Democrats. The president said he would not meet Netanyahu because of the visit’s proximity to the Israeli election.