Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu usually uses his annual speech at the United Nations General Assembly to raise the issue of Iran’s nuclear program and the broader challenge of Iranian meddling across the Middle East.
As in past General Assemblies, the bulk of Netanyahu’s speech Thursday was dedicated to the Iranian threat. And as in the past, Netanyahu’s speech included an attention-grabbing rhetorical device.
In the opening half of the speech, Netanyahu cited several instances in which Iranian political and military leaders had threatened Israel with destruction. After accusing the UN of inaction in the face of these threats, Netanyahu stopped talking for 45 seconds and glared at the assembled delegates:
From one perspective, Netanyahu has been an effective leader for his country: In a time of chaos throughout the broader Middle East, Israel has remained relatively stable and grown its economy. Netanyahu’s party won an unexpectedly large share of the vote in national elections earlier this year.
But the Iran nuclear deal remains one of the greatest stains on his record. The Iranian nuclear threat is virtually the only topic on which Netanyahu has remained consistent during his long political career. The seemingly final diplomatic resolution to his signature issue was not just personally unacceptable to him – but unpalatable for most Israelis as well.
The 45-second glare was a compelling bit of theater. In the moment, it also highlighted, perhaps intentionally, the degree to which the world has already moved past the Iranian nuclear issue. And it unintentionally showed how isolated that now leaves Netanyahu, as well as the degree to which the international consensus has now bypassed him.