TEL AVIV — Considering the controversy surrounding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's historic address to the US Congress before he even uttered a word, it's no surprise that Israeli politicians wasted no time Tuesday weighing in on its impact.
Opposition head Isaac Herzog, who is running against Netanyahu as leader of the Zionist Union Party in the March 17 elections, was one of the most vocal critics.
Downplaying the effectiveness of the address, he said, "There's no doubt that Netanyahu can speak. But let's be honest, tonight's speech will not influence the deal or Iran's desire for a nuclear weapon."
The speech, which is "immensely damaging" to US-Israeli relations, will only further isolate Israel from its primary ally, the US, he said.
"No leader will tolerate a nuclear Iran," he said while addressing residents along the Gaza border at a town hall meeting.
"Only by cooperating with the White House will we be able to prevent the nuclear threat," he asserted.
Alon Pinkas, former consul-general in New York, agreed that Netanyahu's rhetoric was misguided.
"The speech is not going to sway Germany, Russia, France and the UK. The fact that he seemed to influence Congress is nice, but that's not the deciding factor. The Congress can't influence the P5+1," he told Channel 10.
Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Bayit Yehudi Party, however, sought to put politics aside and rally behind Netanyahu.
"[This was a] strong and essential speech that broke down the arguments for a deal. [He] presented a true alternative to the [current] deal: tougher sanctions, instead of nonsense," he told Israel Army Radio from Washington.
"I don't understand what [Herzog], [Zionist Union co-leader Tzipi] Livni and [Yesh Atid's Yair] Lapid are thinking when throwing stones at the prime minister. It's embarrassing. On this issue, there is no right and left," he added, saying partisan politics should not be at play when discussing such an important issue.
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is known for his close relationship with Netanyahu, dismissed claims by his opponents that Netanyahu had caused irreparable damage to Israeli-US relations.
"Netanyahu is 'destroying' relations with the United States, which is what the media said two years ago. Immediately after the elections, the relations immediately improved," he said sarcastically, arguing that much of the controversy is driven by the media during a frantic election season.
Former Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, who is running for the moderate Kulanu Party, was more tempered in his response.
"Now that the prime minister is there it is the interest of every Israeli citizen that he gives a powerful speech. The issue isn't about the speech; the issue is the day after the speech. I think we can all agree that damage has been done," he said.