In a season of international ambiguity over how to address Iran’s unchecked nuclear program, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu illustrated the urgency of keeping the Islamic Republic from achieving weapons capability in clear, memorable terms.
He came into today’s United Nations General Assembly speech expected to call for a “clear red line” in dealing with Tehran. As cameras clicked away, he drew that line on crinkled poster board with a fat red marker.
And in this prop twist with an ACME-esqe bomb diagram, Netanyahu ensured that his drawing would be the image carried away from this year’s General Assembly.
Not the speech two addresses before Netanyahu, in which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing.” Not even the latest tieless, Mahdi-based rant yesterday from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
And even though the Iranian delegation was a predictable no-show, Netanyahu still took on his Iranian counterpart and his apocalyptic policy.
“Throughout our history, the Jewish people have overcome all the tyrants who have sought our destruction. It’s their ideologies that have been discarded by history,” Netanyahu said.
The prime minister said that today “a great battle is being waged between the modern and the medieval.”
“Israel wants to see a Middle East of progress and peace. We want to see the three great religions that sprang forth from our region — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — coexist in peace and in mutual respect. Yet, the medieval forces of radical Islam whom you just saw storming the American embassies throughout the Middle East, well, they oppose this. They seek supremacy over all Muslims. They’re bent on world conquest. They want to destroy Israel, Europe, America. They want to extinguish freedom,” he said.
“They want to end the modern world.”
To Abbas, Netanyahu said, “We won’t solve our conflict with libelous speeches at the U.N.”
To the regime in Iran, he lumped them with al-Qaeda as those who would “drag humanity back to an age of unquestioning dogma, unrelenting conflict.”
“I think the relevant question is this, it’s not whether this fanaticism will be defeated, it’s how many lives will be lost before it’s defeated? And we’ve seen that happen before too,” Netanyahu said. “Some 70 years ago, the world saw another fanatic ideology bent on world conquest. Now, it went down in flames, but not before it took millions of people with it. Those who oppose that fanaticism waited too long to act. In the end they triumphed, but at a horrific cost.”
At stake, he stressed, is not just the future of Israel but that of the world.
“Now, it makes little difference whether these lethal weapons are in the hands of the world’s most dangerous terrorist regime or the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization. They’re both fired by the same hatred, they’re both driven by the same lust for violence,” Netanyahu said.
He called the belief that Iran can be deterred a la the Soviet Union “a very dangerous assumption.”
“Militant jihadists behave very differently from secular Marxists,” the prime minister said. “…For the ayatollahs of Iran, mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent. It’s an inducement.”
“Iran’s apocalyptic leaders believe that a medieval Holy Land will reappear in the wake of a devastating Holy War, thereby ensuring that their brand of radical Islam will rule the earth,” he said. “Now, that’s not just what they believe. That’s what is actually guiding their policies and their actions.”
Ahmadinejad gave a lengthy sermon about the Mahdi in his own address. “The arrival of the ultimate savior will mark a new beginning, a rebirth and a resurrection. It will be the beginning of peace, lasting security and genuine life. His arrival will be the end of oppression, immorality, poverty, discrimination and the beginning of justice, love and empathy,” the Iranian leader said yesterday from the same dais.
Netanyahu noted that he’s been warning about the need to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons for more than 15 years.
“I spoke about it when it was fashionable and I spoke about it when it wasn’t fashionable. I speak about it now because the hour is getting late, very late,” he said. “…I speak about it now because when it comes to the survival of my country it’s not only my right to speak, it’s my duty to speak.”
Addressing the problem, he said, is “the duty of every responsible leader who wants to preserve world peace.”
And the obvious, he emphasized for yet another time, is that Tehran is using diplomatic negotiations to buy time to advance its nuclear program.
And that brought the prime minister to the clear red line.
“Red lines don’t lead to war. Red lines prevent war,” Netanyahu said. “In fact, it’s the failure to place red lines that’s often invited aggression. If the Western powers had drawn clear red lines during the 1930s, I believe they would have stopped Nazi aggression and World War II might have been avoided. In 1990, if Saddam Hussein had been clearly told that his conquest of Kuwait had crossed a red line, the first Gulf War might have been avoided.”
To illustrate how close Iran is to getting the bomb, he unfolded a diagram of a simple round bomb with a sparkling fuse — and cemented his place and the nuclear crisis on front pages around the world.
Iran, Netanyahu said, has completed the first stage, the lower 70 percent of the bomb outline. “Now they’re well into the second stage and by next spring, at most by next summer, at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage,” he said. “From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks, before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb.”
Based on this information from the International Atomic Energy Agency, he drew the red line at the point before the final stage.
“Now each day, that point is getting closer. And that’s why I speak today with such a sense of urgency. And that’s why everyone should have a sense of urgency. Now, there are some who claim that even if Iran completes the enrichment process, even if it crosses that red line that I just drew, our intelligence agencies will know when and where Iran will make the fuse, assemble the bomb and prepare the warhead,” he said.
“All these leading intelligence agencies are superb, including ours. They foiled many attacks. They’ve saved many lives. But they are not foolproof. For over two years, our intelligence agencies didn’t know that Iran was building a huge nuclear enrichment plant under a mountain. Do we want to risk the security of the world on the assumption that we will find in time, a small workshop in a country half the size of Europe? Ladies and gentleman, the relevant question is not when Iran will get the bomb. The relevant question is, at what stage can we no longer stop Iran from getting the bomb?”
Netanyahu said he appreciated President Obama reiterating that containment of a nuclear-armed Iran couldn’t be an option.
“Israel is in discussions with the United States over this issue. And I am confident that we can chart a path forward together,” he simply said.
Aboard Air Force One en route to a campaign stop in Virginia today, White House press secretary Jay Carney said he had no update on whether Obama would meet with Netanyahu on Friday or anytime soon.
“As you know, the president was at the United Nations earlier this week in New York. The prime minister was not in New York. The prime minister is there today and tomorrow, I believe,” Carney said. “The prime minister is meeting with Secretary of State Clinton later today, this evening, and I expect the president will have a follow-up phone call with the prime minister probably Friday.”
The president’s schedule for tomorrow includes three campaign events in Washington and meetings with senior advisers.
Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer after the speech that the red line would actually give sanctions and diplomacy a better shot of working.
“We know the Iranians can see the color red and they’re loathe to cross those type of lines,” Oren said. “…We’ve always said that a combination of crippling sanctions and a credible military threat stand the best chance of dissuading the Iranian regime from pursuing military nuclear capabilities.”
Others also praised Netanyahu’s uses of the prop in conveying a message that has fallen on many deaf ears at General Assemblies past.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu laid out in detail and even used a very simple but quite effective graphic to demonstrate to the international community the basic reasons why it is crucial to intensify international action to stop Iran’s accelerating nuclear weapons program,” said the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman.