If there was any question about America’s current leadership role in the world, it was answered at the United Nations today when Israel laid bare the very real possibility of standing alone against — and protecting the world from — Iran’s nuclear weapons development.
“I want there to be no confusion on this point. Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone — that in standing alone, Israel will know that we will be defending many, many others.”
His speech to close the General Assembly was aimed not as much at calling out the Iranian regime on its sins and deception, but calling out a White House eager to whitewash its new leader in order to avoid confrontation over its nuclear program.
It came a day after Netanayhu and President Obama sat down at the White House behind closed doors, and five days after Obama called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and declared a bold new era of rapprochement.
Netanyahu detailed the historical amity between the Persians and the Jewish people that was dealt a vicious blow by the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
“As it was busy crushing the Iranian people’s hope for democracy, it also led wild chants of ‘Death to the Jews.’ Now, since that time, presidents of Iran have come and gone. Some presidents were considered moderates, others hardliners, but they’ve all served that same unforgiving creed, that same unforgiving regime, that creed that is espoused and enforced by the real power in Iran, the dictator known as the supreme leader, first Ayatollah Khomeini and now Ayatollah Khamenei,” he said.
“President Rouhani, like the presidents who came before him, is a loyal servant of the regime. He was one of only six candidates the regime permitted to run for office. Nearly 700 other candidates were rejected.”
What made Rouhani “acceptable” to the ayatollah, Netanyahu noted, was his tenure heading Iran’s Supreme National Security Council from 1989 through 2003 — a time period in which attacks included the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires and the deaths of 19 American soldiers in the bombing at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.
“Are we to believe that Rouhani, the national security advisor of Iran at the time, knew nothing about these attacks? Of course he did,” the prime minister said. “Just as 30 years ago, Iran’s security chiefs knew about the bombings in Beirut that killed 241 American Marines and 58 French paratroopers. Rouhani was also Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005. He masterminded the strategy which enabled Iran to advance its nuclear weapons program behind a smokescreen of diplomatic engagement and very soothing rhetoric.”
The main difference between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who regularly made outrageous remarks on his UN trips, and Rouhani, who worked media and politicians into an affectionate frenzy with his charm offensive last week, is “Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf’s clothing; Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Netanyahu laid out the “brazen contrast” between Rouhani’s words and Iran’s action by noting its denouncement of terrorism while participating in and propping up terrorism, and its calls for “constructive engagement” while, just three weeks ago, an Iranian agent was arrested trying to collect information for possible attacks against the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv.
“The facts are that Iran’s savage record flatly contradicts Rouhani’s soothing rhetoric,” he added. “…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 intent on merely civilian nuclear programs continue to defy multiple Security Council resolutions and incur the tremendous cost of crippling sanctions on its economy? And 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. And Iran is building now ICBMs that the United States says could reach this city in three or four years… Iran is not building a peaceful nuclear program. Iran is developing nuclear weapons.”
Since Rouhani’s recent election, as the world excitedly jabbered about a more moderate regime, Netanyahu noted that the “vast and feverish effort” to enrich uranium and add centrifuges “has continued unabated.”
“Last year when I spoke here at the U.N., I drew a red line. Now, Iran has been very careful not to cross that line, but Iran is positioning itself to race across that line in the future at a time of its choosing. Iran wants to be in a position to rush forward to build nuclear bombs before the international community can detect it and much less prevent it,” he said.
Sanctions have had a desirable effect on the regime, Netanyahu continued, but need to stay in place or be stepped up along with keeping a credible threat of military force on the table.
“The regime is under intense pressure from the Iranian people to get the sanctions relieved or removed. That’s why Rouhani got elected in the first place. That’s why he launched his charm offensive. He definitely wants to get the sanctions lifted; I guarantee you that. But he doesn’t want to give up Iran’s nuclear weapons program in return,” he said. “Now, here’s a strategy to achieve this. First, smile a lot. Smiling never hurts. Second, pay lip service to peace, democracy and tolerance. Third, offer meaningless concessions in exchange for lifting sanctions. And, fourth — and the most important — ensure that Iran retains sufficient nuclear material and sufficient nuclear infrastructure to race to the bomb at a time that it chooses to do so.”
As the negotiator who bragged about pressing forward with a nuclear program while talking with Europe about disarmament, Rouhani “fooled the world once. Now he thinks he can fool it again. You see, Rouhani thinks he can have his yellowcake and eat it, too.”
North Korea, Netanyahu stressed, is the perfect example of bungled nuclear diplomatic efforts that have only gotten worse. “A nuclear-armed Iran in the Middle East wouldn’t be another North Korea. It would be another 50 North Koreas,” he added.
For those who think the “wild rhetoric” from Iran that has continued since the Islamic Revolution “is just bluster for domestic consumption,” the prime minister stressed, “Have these people learned nothing from history?”
“The last century has taught us that when a radical regime with global ambitions gets awesome power, sooner or later its appetite for aggression knows no bounds. That’s the central lesson of the 20th century, and we cannot forget it,” he said. “The world may have forgotten this lesson. The Jewish people have not. Iran’s fanaticism is not bluster. It’s real. This fanatic regime must never be allowed to arm itself with nuclear weapons. I know that the world is weary of war. We in Israel, we know all too well the cost of war. But history has taught us that to prevent war tomorrow, we must be firm today.”
The four steps for Iran to fall into line, Netanyahu said, are: “First, cease all uranium enrichment. This is called for by several Security Council resolutions. Second, remove from Iran’s territory the stockpiles of enriched uranium. Third, dismantle the infrastructure for a nuclear breakout capability, including the underground facility at Qom and the advanced centrifuges in Natanz. And, fourth, stop all work at the heavy-water reactor in Arak aimed at the production of plutonium.”
“Three decades ago, President Ronald Reagan famously advised, ‘Trust, but verify.’ When it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, here’s my advice: Distrust, dismantle, and verify.”
At the White House today, press secretary Jay Carney was staging a defense against the regime lashing out at Obama’s meeting with Netanyahu.
“President Obama needs consistency to promote mutual confidence. Flip flop destroys trust and undermines US credibility,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted yesterday. “Pres. Obama’s presumption that Iran is negotiating because of his illegal threats and sanctions is disrespectful of a nation, macho and wrong.”
“The president has been consistent. He took office in January of 2009, making clear his willingness to have bilateral discussions with Tehran, if Tehran was willing to address seriously the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program,” Carney said. “Because of the position he took, it became clear at the time that the United States was not the issue here. It was the behavior of Iran. And that clarity allowed for the building of the most comprehensive set of sanctions that the world has ever seen and the implementation of those sanctions, which, in turn, has led in part to where we find ourselves today, which is with a new government in Iran that has indicated willingness to negotiate a solution to this problem, diplomatically.”
When asked about Netanyahu’s speech, Carney admitted, “I didn’t catch all of it.”
Carney added that Israel’s “skepticism is understandable,” but wouldn’t agree to Netanyahu’s characterization of Iran’s ruse.
“We believe that the Iranian leadership has very publicly, and everyone here has reported on it, changed their approach to resolving this issue with the international community,” he said. “…You guys keep asking me to respond to a speech that I haven’t — I wasn’t able to hear. But what — but I understand the basic sentiment. And what we have said is that there’s a window of opportunity to resolve this diplomatically.”
At the State Department, spokeswoman Jen Psaki brushed off Netanyahu’s pledge to act alone if need be, a vow that took on extra meaning as Washington heads down the path laid out by Iran.
“They have also said that before. So that is not a new statement on their part,” Psaki said. She clarified that when the U.S. government says its in “lockstep” with Israel it’s just referring to “we agree that we cannot allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
“But certainly, we have an obligation and an opportunity to see if there is a path forward and that’s what we’re pursuing now,” she continued. “…I think I can speak to what our view is, which is that President Rouhani, there’s a new opportunity given his election. We will see if they back up their words with actions.”
Iran’s deputy ambassador to the UN Khodadad Seifi called Netanyahu’s speech “inflammatory,” according to Iran’s Press TV.
“Like last year, he continued saber-rattling toward Iran by abusing this august assembly,” Seifi said. “The Israeli prime minister had better not even think about attacking Iran, let alone planning for that.”
Yesterday as Congress was wrestling with its government shutdown deadline, congressional leaders and members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee met with Netanyahu on his visit to Washington.
Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said afterward that, during the meeting, “senators spoke with a unity of purpose, hopeful for a diplomatic outcome with Iran that leads to a verifiable termination of its pursuit of nuclear weapons program, but resolute that U.S. national security objectives can never be compromised.”
“Our resolve to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability remains unchanged and we will not hesitate from proceeding with further sanctions and other options to protect U.S. interests and ensure regional security. While we welcome Iran’s diplomatic engagement, it cannot be used to buy time, avoid sanctions, and continue the march toward nuclear weapons capability,” Menendez said.
“Compliance with the U.N. Security Council resolutions will be the ultimate test of Iran’s intentions. We proceed with an open hand, and an open mind, but remain clear-eyed that Iran must align its actions with its rhetoric.”