A day and a half after U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned of the dire circumstances an Israeli attack on Iran could lead to, and in the wake of similar warnings issued by former head of the Mossad Meir Dagan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a comparison between the decision of Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion to declare the foundation of the state of Israel, and a decision he, Netanyahu, faced today.
Speaking at the annual memorial Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu said that "great statesmen as well as friends of the Jews and of Zionism" warned Ben-Gurion that declaring a Jewish state in 1948 would bring an invasion of Arab armies and a "grave and difficult battle," Netanyahu said.
"Great statesmen as well as friends of the Jews and of Zionism" warned Ben-Gurion that declaring a Jewish state in 1948 would bring an invasion of Arab armies and a "grave and difficult battle", Netanyahu said.
"He understood full well the decision carried a heavy price, but he believed not making that decision had a heavier price," Netanyahu said. "We are all here today because Ben-Gurion made the right decision at the right moment.”
On Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leona Panetta used some of his strongest language yet to explain U.S. concerns about any military attack on Iran, citing Israeli estimates that a strike might set back its nuclear program by only one or two years.
The consequence, Panetta said, could be "an escalation" that could "consume the Middle East in confrontation and conflict that we would regret."
Netanyahu has called a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat to Israel, and along with the U.S. has said that all options are on the table to deal with such a threat. Iran says it is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes.
In his speech, Netanyahu said Ben-Gurion deliberated long and hard before he decided to declare a state.
"Today we are all in agreement it was a considered, correct and responsible decision. I want to believe we will always act with responsibility, courage and determination to make the right decisions to ensure our future and security," Netanyahu said.
Although Netanyahu didn’t mention Iran or its nuclear program in his speech, it was quite clear that Netanyahu was using his speech to draw a comparison between himself and Ben-Gurion, and between Ben-Gurion’s decision to proclaim the foundation of the State of Israel and the decisions he, Netanyahu, is facing today to counter the Iranian nuclear threat.
Netanyahu has been facing criticism both from within and from without, including from former spymaster Dagan, who since leaving his post in January has been vocal in warning about the dangers of regional conflict and Iranian retaliation if Israel attacked on its own.
Iran has weathered several rounds of sanctions passed by the UN Security Council and Western powers. A UN watchdog report last month suggested Iran has worked on a nuclear bomb program, heightening international pressure.
On Saturday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak responded to Panetta's statement urging Israel not to act alone against Iran, and said that Panetta's full message is more complex than that.
"We are in constant dialogue with the Americans," he said, "I've met Panetta about a dozen times over the last two or three years. In person we hold more intensive talks."
Barak said the entire international community agrees that the diplomatic course and the use of sanctions must be exhausted, yet added that "no option should be taken off the table. Israel is responsible for its security, its future and its existence."
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