Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is putting President Barack Obama and the world on notice: if nothing is done to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Israel will be forced to launch a unilateral attack to destroy it.
The former commando – one of Israel’s most experienced leaders – made that clear in an interview given to The Atlantic magazine soon after the swearing-in of his new government Tuesday. The Jewish state views Iran’s nuclear program not only as a threat against its very existence, but also a destabilizing “hinge” point that could determine the fate of the West, Netanyahu said.
It’s a significantly new and more belligerent twist on an old conversation between the hawkish Israeli and the young, inexperienced American president.
When it was still President-elect Obama, Netanyahu told Reuters that he was assuaged by Obama telling him that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons was “unacceptable.”
“I am impressed by his commitment to prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold... I have no doubt that that commitment is genuine and that he will follow through with it,” Netanyahu said at the time.
Whether the Israeli Prime Minister’s belief in Obama’s commitment has frayed any since both men have ascended to the leadership of their respective countries remains hidden for now.
What is certain is that Netanyahu is holding Obama to his word, wanting the neutralization of Iran’s nuclear weapons potential to be the linchpin not only of his own new administration — but that of his friend and ally, Barack Obama’s, as well.
“The Obama presidency has two great missions: fixing the economy, and preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, who garnered the exclusive interview.
Netanyahu hammered home to Goldberg that the Iranian nuclear challenge represents a “hinge of history” and added that “Western civilization” will have failed if Iran is allowed to succeed with its nuclear weapons program.
Three years ago, an out-of-power Netanyahu called for Israel to reprise — against Iran — its 1981 bombing of Iraq’s main nuclear reactor, according to a Reuters report.
As prime minister, despite generally strong rhetoric, he is apparently willing to humor Obama’s decision to first engage Iran – with the aim that negotiations might yet bring about a quick end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“How you achieve this goal is less important than achieving it,” he told Goldberg. But Netanyahu stressed that he was skeptical that Iran would be amenable to Obama’s entreaties.
During the 60-minute dialogue in the Knesset, Netanyahu professed that nonmilitary measures could yet succeed. “I think the Iranian economy is very weak, which makes Iran susceptible to sanctions that can be ratcheted up by a variety of means.”
But that’s no excuse for allowing the regime to acquire nuclear weapons.
“You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs,” Netanyahu said. “When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran.”
“You see a country that glorifies blood and death, including its own self-immolation,” Netanyahu continued.
Meanwhile, the Atlantic reports that while Israeli and American intelligence officials agree that Iran is moving forward in developing a nuclear-weapons capability, they have different takes on the progress thus far.
Israeli military intelligence is of the opinion that Iran has crossed the technological threshold, while American officials say not so.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen, has advised that an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would undermine stability in the Middle East and endanger the lives of Americans in the Gulf region.
The Obama administration agrees with Israel that Iran’s nuclear program is a generalized threat, but it also looks for Israel to drag its focus to the Palestinian question.
Netanyahu said his new government will dutifully move forward on negotiations with the Palestinians, but he made it clear to Goldberg that he believes peace will be difficult to achieve if Iran continues to threaten Israel, citing Iran’s sponsorship of Hezbollah and Hamas as impediments.
Netanyahu told Goldberg that he will manage Israel’s diplomacy with Washington personally, concluding: “We intend to move on the Palestinian track independent of what happens with Iran, and I hope the U.S. moves to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons regardless of what happens on the Palestinian track.”
‘Hinge of History’
The new PM explained in detail to Goldberg why Iran should lead the Obama foreign policy itinerary: First, Iran’s militant proxies would be able to fire rockets and engage in other terror activities while enjoying a nuclear umbrella. This raises the stakes of any confrontation that they’d force on Israel. Instead of being a local event, however painful, it becomes a global one. Second, this development would embolden Islamic militants far and wide, on many continents, who would believe that this is a providential sign — that this fanaticism is on the ultimate road to triumph. Third, they would be able to pose a real and credible threat to the supply of oil, to the overwhelming part of the world’s oil supply. Fourth, they may threaten to use these weapons or to give them to terrorist proxies of their own, or fabricate terror proxies. Finally, you’d create a great sea change in the balance of power in our area — nearly all the Arab regimes are dead-set opposed to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. They fervently hope, even if they don’t say it, that the U.S. will act to prevent this — that it will use its political, economic, and, if necessary, military power to prevent this from happening.
If Iran acquired nuclear weapons, Netanyahu warned, Washington’s Arab allies would drift into Iran’s orbit. Furthermore, several countries in Iran’s neighborhood might try to develop nuclear weapons of their own.
“Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons could spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The Middle East is incendiary enough, but with a nuclear arms race it will become a tinderbox,” he said.
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