In his address to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the most pointed public threat on record that Israel is prepared to unilaterally attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.
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"Israel will never acquiesce to nuclear arms in the hands of a rogue regime that repeatedly promises to wipe us off the map. Against such a threat, Israel will have no choice but to defend itself," Netanyahu said. "I want there to be no confusion on this point. Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone."
Despite this threat, however, Netanyahu softened his red lines slightly. In last year's address he said the red line beyond which Israel would take action involved the amount of enriched uranium in Iran's possession. He declared that only if Iran were on the verge of having nuclear weapons would Israel launch an independent attack.
The prime minister again laid out the four demands that the Western powers, in his view, should insist on during the talks with Iran: a halt to all uranium enrichment; removal of the stockpiles of enriched uranium from the country; dismantling of the infrastructure for nuclear breakout capability - the underground facility at Fordo and the advanced centrifuges in Natanz; and the halting of all work at the Arak heavy water reactor toward production of plutonium. But while Netanyahu insisted that Iran be forced to abandon its military nuclear program, he did not make that demand concerning its civilian nuclear efforts.
Netanyahu's speech lasted slightly over 30 minutes and dealt almost exclusively with Iran. All other topics were covered in two minutes combined, including the negotiations with the Palestinians and relations with the Arab world. He was the last speaker in the UN General Assembly, which might explain the scant presence of diplomats in the hall.
Netanyahu slammed the speech Iranian President Hassam Rohani's there last week. "Rohani stood at this very podium last week and praised Iranian democracy. Iranian democracy. But the regime that he represents executes political dissidents by the hundreds and jails them by the thousands," Netanyahu said. "Rohani spoke of, quote, 'the human tragedy in Syria.' Yet Iran directly participates in Assad's murder and massacre of tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children in Syria. And that regime is propping up a Syrian regime that just used chemical weapons against its own people. … I wish I could believe Rohani, but I don't because facts are stubborn things."
Netanyahu insisted that Rohani's claim that Iran does not wish to develop nuclear arms had no credibility. "Any of you believe that?” he asked. “Why would a country that claims to only want peaceful nuclear energy, why would such a country build hidden underground enrichment facilities? Why would a country with vast natural energy reserves invest billions in developing nuclear energy? … Why would a country with a peaceful nuclear program develop intercontinental ballistic missiles, whose sole purpose is to deliver nuclear warheads? You don't build ICBMs to carry TNT thousands of miles away; you build them for one purpose, to carry nuclear warheads. … Why would they do all this? The answer is simple. Iran is not building a peaceful nuclear program; Iran is developing nuclear weapons."
Netanyahu said Iran had not crossed the red line he drew in last year's address, adding that it was trying to cross it but was impeded by the international sanctions. "The regime is under intense pressure from the Iranian people to get the sanctions relieved or removed,” the prime minister maintained. “That's why Rohani got elected in the first place. That's why he launched his charm offensive. … The international community has Iran on the ropes. If you want to knock out Iran's nuclear weapons program peacefully, don't let up the pressure. Keep it up … when it comes to Iran, the greater the pressure, the greater the chance."
Only at the end of his speech did he briefly address the negotiations with the Palestinians, saying Israel "continues to seek an historic compromise with our Palestinian neighbors, one that ends our conflict once and for all. … I have no illusions about how difficult this will be to achieve. Twenty years ago, the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians began. Six Israeli prime ministers, myself included, have not succeeded at achieving peace with the Palestinians. My predecessors were prepared to make painful concessions. So am I. But so far the Palestinian leaders haven't been prepared to offer the painful concessions they must make in order to end the conflict.
"For peace to be achieved, the Palestinians must finally recognize the Jewish state, and Israel's security needs must be met,” he said. "I am prepared to make an historic compromise for genuine and enduring peace, but I will never compromise on the security of my people and of my country, the one and only Jewish state."