Netanyahu on Gaza Escalation: Israel Is Preparing for Every Scenario, This Is Not an Empty Statement

Netanyahu says that the exposure of the nuclear storehouse in Tehran was intended to prepare the ground for ‘additional action by the United States and Israel against Iran’

Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, U.S., on Sept. 27, 2018.
Photographer: Jeenah Moon

NEW YORK — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that Israel was prepared for any scenario regarding the recent escalation in the Gaza Strip, and that he exposed the Tehran nuclear storage facility during his UN address “to motivate the International Atomic Energy Agency to investigate.”

Regarding Gaza, Netanyahu said: “We are preparing for every scenario, this is not an empty statement.”

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He said he also made the revelation about the nuclear warehouse to “lay the groundwork publicly for additional action by the United States and Israel against Iran.”

He was speaking to reporters in his hotel in New York a day after his speech at the UN General Assembly.

In response to criticism in Israel that exposing intelligence information compromises state security, a government official said: “There is no exposure of intelligence here, that’s ridiculous. We already shared this information with the major intelligence agencies. We didn’t say this was new information.”

As the official put it, “We don’t have intelligence that has a state, but a state that has intelligence. The prime minister and the government decide on the use of this intelligence. We have already revealed the material to the relevant bodies and now public pressure must be brought to bear.”

According to the official, after the storage site was made public, the Iranians began to evacuate the facility and cover up its traces.

>> No matter the outcome, Gaza is becoming Netanyahu's political nightmare | Analysis

The official also responded to remarks by a U.S. official quoted by Reuters, who said that “we have known about this facility for some time, and it’s full of file cabinets and paper, not aluminum tubes for centrifuges.”

The Israeli official said: “Has he checked it? Let them check it.” The Israeli official said the Americans had been informed about the details of the discovery as well as Netanyahu’s intention to reveal them at the United Nations.

The official said the IAEA had also been informed about the details six weeks ago. “It’s high time they acted,” Netanyahu told the reporters.

He said the information he presented proved that when the Iranians pledged “to come clean” before the nuclear agreement, they lied to the world powers and therefore the basis for the agreement was false.

Netanyahu also responded to a tweet by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that Israel was the side concealing nuclear weapons: “The fact that this was his response to my remarks says everything. He didn’t bother denying it.”

>> Israel believes Hamas gearing up for war as Gaza crisis deepens

Regarding his other meetings on the fringes of the General Assembly, Netanyahu said he had agreed with Rwandan President Paul Kagame that Israel and Rwanda would open embassies in each other’s countries. “For the time being, he hasn’t committed to Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said.

The two leaders also agreed to launch direct flights between Israel and Rwanda. Netanyahu also consulted with Kagame about the situation in Eritrea and whether the East African country would allow “the return of labor migrants there.” According to Netanyahu, “I don’t know if the move will come to fruition, but we’re looking into it.”

Netanyahu told reporters that in his meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda, the two discussed the Israeli-Polish agreement on the Polish legislation banning accusations against the Polish people for any crimes committed during the Holocaust.

“We spoke frankly about the statement, and I said that many people in Israel weren’t satisfied with it, and he said that there was criticism in Poland as well,” Netanyahu said. “On the other hand, I told him that I was pleased that they had changed the law, and this was the purpose after all. He also hears our complaints about the European Union, and I think they’re paying attention on this matter.”

Netanyahu said he spoke with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz about Vienna’s intention to grant citizenship to second- and third-generation descendants of Holocaust survivors. He also said that there had been no change in Israel’s policy toward the ministers of the far-right Freedom Party whom Israel is boycotting.

Netanyahu said he spoke to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres mainly about the IAEA, as well as returning the UN peacekeeping force UNDOF to the Israel-Syria border in the Golan Heights.

“We are in favor of renewing UNDOF; there is after all a border there that has been re-created and this can help to a certain extent,” Netanyahu said. “I also asked him for help with our prisoners and missing persons. Hadar Goldin was abducted during a UN truce,” he added, referring to Hamas’ abduction of the body of Lt. Hadar Goldin during the 2014 Gaza war. “Let them ask them [Hamas] about this.”

As for ties with the Goldin family, the prime minister said his military secretary had met with them in New York, where they had come to listen to Netanyahu’s speech in which he mentioned their son. He said that he himself had met with the family about a month ago.

Netanyahu said that in his meeting with the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, “I thanked her for their marvelous support and I also spoke to her about UNDOF.”

Netanyahu said about his meeting with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel: “I always say to them: ‘We are helping you with security, don’t be captives of the Palestinian narrative.” Netanyahu added that he and Michel had agreed to cooperate on the issue of “digital health.”

Netanyahu said that he discussed a new trade agreement with Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales and that he had been invited to visit Guatemala. “As opposed to Paraguay, this is a country that stands strong,” he said, referring to Paraguay’s about-face on the moving of its embassy to Jerusalem.

Netanyahu said he discussed the crisis with Russia with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi. “Sissi is a very smart man. Very, very smart,” Netanyahu said. “I want to hear his opinion. I come with tasks but I also like to hear from their side.”

The two also discussed Gaza, though Netanyahu said the matter of Israeli natural-gas sales to Egypt did not come up. As to whether Netanyahu had meetings with other leaders during his visit that were not reported, he answered sarcastically: “I also met the president of Cyprus in the lobby.”

He also met with leaders of the American Jewish community and said he spoke to them about the conversion issue, the Western Wall and the nation-state law.

Netanyahu was asked at the briefing about his remarks Wednesday that Israel would demand “security control west of the Jordan River” in any plan for a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

“I don’t intend to remove even one settlement. But we’re not there yet. They will propose what they propose and I’ll say my position,” Netanyahu said.

“We will not uproot any settlement. I don’t believe in this. We’re not uprooting Arabs either because that’s not what is needed in this method. Whether that conforms to two states depends how you define the term ‘state.’”

When asked about leaving settlements under Palestinian control, Netanyahu replied: “I have no such intention.” He said Israel’s ties with Arab countries were better than ever.

When asked about the global rise of the #MeToo movement in light of recent events in the United States and in general, Netanyahu said: “I think this is a movement whose time has come.”

Netanyahu declined to answer a question about the race for the next Israel Defense Forces chief of staff and his ties with the defense minister on the subject. He also declined to discuss the corruption investigations against him.

In response to a question from a reporter for the Israel News Corporation on the matter, he said: “I feel with you like that girl ... what’s her name ... Monica Lewinsky.”