Netanyahu GA - Avi Ohayon - Nov 8, 2010
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the Jewish Federations General Assembly in New Orleans, November 8, 2010. Photo by Avi Ohayon / GPO
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NEW ORLEANS - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told American Jewish community leaders in New Orleans on Monday that Iran’s nuclear ambitions posed the greatest threat to Israel and the world, and that Tehran would only halt its aspirations for atomic weapons if it believed that it faced a real possibility of military action.

The prime minister issued a similar warning to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday, as they met on the sidelines of the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, which Biden addressed shortly after his meeting with Netanyahu.

“The greatest danger facing Israel and the world is the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran. Iran threatens to annihilate Israel, it denies the Holocaust, it sponsors terror in South America and Afghanistan and Iraq,” Netanyahu said Monday. “This is what Iran is doing without nuclear weapons, imagine what it would do with them. Imagine the devastation its terror proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas and others, would wreak under an Iranian nuclear umbrella.”

For this reason, he said, he was appreciative of U.S. President Barack Obama’s drive for tighter United Nations economic sanctions on Iran, but said that the only time “the pirates of Tehran” had considered halting their nuclear program was “for a brief period in 2003, when they believed they faced a credible threat of military action.”

Echoing comments made a day earlier by Biden to the GA, Netanyahu said that Israel also faces an ongoing threat to its legitimacy, as anti-Semitism had warped into criticism of the Jewish state.

Herzl was too optimistic in believing the rebirth of the Jewish state would put an end to anti-Semitism,” the prime minister warned. “The old hatred against the Jewish people is now focused against the Jewish state. Today in many quarters it is Israel that is demonized, singled out, denied the right to self defense.”

Netanyahu also said that the militant Islamist group Hamas had recently admitted that during Israel's assault in Gaza at the end of 2008, many of the group's operatives had been killed, as opposed to previous denials by the group.

Netanyahu stressed that the Israel Defense Forces had reported all along that at least 50 percent of the Palestinian casualties had been Hamas operatives, which Netanyahu called "terrorists."

"The authors of the Goldstone report owe Israel's army an apology," he elicited the crowd's cheers, referring to a damning report that followed the operation which condemned Israel for committing war crimes in Gaza.

Netanyahu also addressed the stalled peace process with the Palestinians, saying that "we are ready to recognize a Palestinian state as the state of the Palestinian people, but we expect them to recognize the Jewish State as the state of the Jewish people."

The prime minister denounced Palestinian preconditions, insisting that "Israel will not be dictated to." He explained that Israel's allies, most prominent of which being the United States, would not allow anyone to dictate terms to Israel. 

The prime minister opened his speech by lauding the U.S. Jewish community for its efforts in the rehabilitation of New Orleans, where the conference was held, in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. "Just as the Jewish people have always rallied to help Israel, you rallied to help New Orleans." He later again addressed American Jews directly declaring that "Israel must always be a place that each of you can call home."