x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Israel ‘is prepared to act alone against Iran’, Netanyahu says

Israeli prime minister tells UN Iran is seeking to rush the production of a nuclear weapon and warns that his country is prepared to prevent it.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, centre, arrives for a meeting yesterday with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during the 68th session of the General Assembly at UN headquarters, AP Photo/Seth Wenig
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, centre, arrives for a meeting yesterday with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during the 68th session of the General Assembly at UN headquarters, AP Photo/Seth Wenig

NEW YORK // Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that Iran was seeking to “rush” the production of a nuclear weapon and warned that his country is ready to act alone to prevent it.

Speaking to the UN General Assemby, Mr Netanyahu sought to discredit Iran’s newly elected president Hassan Rouhani, who last week at the United Nations said his country was ready to reach a peaceful negotiated solution to its dispute with the West over its nuclear programme.

“I wish I could believe Rouhani. But I don’t,” Mr Netanyahu said. “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.

“Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

The only way to peacefully prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, Mr Netanyahu said, is by maintaining a credible military threat combined with stepped-up up economic sanctions. Mr Rouhani has asked for an easing of the sanctions that are crippling Iran’s economy and leading to perilously low foreign-exchange reserves.

The precondition before any sanctions relief, the Israeli prime minister said, should be to “distrust, dismantle and verify”.

Mr Netanyahu dismissed the idea of allowing Iran to enrich on its own soil uranium even to a low level, saying that the only way to ensure Iran could never develop nuclear weapons capability was a complete dismantling of its enrichment technology.

He added that the shared threat of a nuclear-armed Iran was bringing Israel closer to many of its Arab neighbours in the region, who now recognise that “Israel is not their enemy”.

“A nuclear armed Iran in the Middle East wouldn’t be another North Korea – it would be another 50 North Koreas,” Mr Netanyahu said.

The US President Barack Obama has sought to avoid war with Iran, which administration officials reportedly worry could set off a wider Middle East conflict and put an end to recently revived Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.

But Mr Netanyahu put pressure on Mr Obama during his UN speech, saying: “Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone.”

After a White House meeting with Mr Netanyahu on Monday, Mr Obama sought to reassure the Israeli leader that the US was “clear eyed” about the need to verify Iran’s actions. Negotiations with Iran, along with the US and five other world powers are scheduled to begin in two weeks in Geneva.

While Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu presented a unified front after their White House meeting on Monday, it is clear stark differences persist between the two allies on how to approach a potential detente with Iran.

Mr Netanyahu’s calls for increased sanctions before diplomacy is tested have been echoed by his allies in the US Congress in both parties. A bipartisan group of senators is set to introduce a bill that would put in place a complete ban on Iranian oil.

Obama administration officials fear that new sanctions – even after the US president put in place an unprecedented sanctions regime against Iran – would imperil Mr Rouhani’s delicate position with powerful hardliners in Iran who oppose negotiations and undermine the talks.

Mr Netanyahu’s demand that Iran give up its entire enrichment capability is also at odds with Mr Obama’s stated position, which is that Iran has the right to civilian nuclear energy.

Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, sought to pre-empt Mr Netanyahu’s remarks, saying earlier in the day that the Israeli prime minister was a liar who must deceive in order to promote his Iran policies.

“This is his nature, to lie... Over the past 22 years, the regime, Israel, has been saying Iran will have nuclear arms in six months,” Mr Zarif said on Iranian state television. “The continuation of this game, in fact, is based on lying, deception, incitement and harassment.”

He said Mr Netanyahu is the “most isolated individual” at the UN.

After Mr Netanyahu’s speech, a deputy Iranian ambassador at the UN, Khodadad Seifi, accused the Israeli leader of “sabre rattling” and said Mr Netanyahu “better not even think about attacking Iran”.

While he spent the majority of his address attacking Iran, Mr Netanyahu mentioned the renewed peace talks with the Palestinian Authority government. He put forward no new concessions, and said that “so far the Palestinian leaders haven’t been prepared to offer the painful concessions they must make”.

tkhan@thenational.ae