Wrapping up his three-day visit to the US, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that the two main achievements of the trip were drawing a clear red line on Iran’s nuclear program and strengthening coordination with the US on preventing the Islamic republic from further amassing enriched uranium.
Speaking as his plane was about to take off for the 12 hour flight back to Tel Aviv, Netanyahu pledged that he would “continue to make every effort to ensure that the world’s most dangerous country doesn’t obtain the world’s most dangerous weapon.”
Earlier, Netanyahu defended his use of a cartoon bomb graphic in order to highlight his contention that Iran must be stopped before it has amassed enough 20%-enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb.
In Israeli TV interviews broadcast on Saturday night, following his speech Thursday to the UN General Assembly, Netanyahu said “hundreds of millions of people got my message” around the world. He had made clear that “Iran has to be stopped at the enrichment stage,” he told Channel 10 News. If Iran crosses the line, he went on, the US, Israel and others “would clearly have the right to act.”
Asked whether his speech had essentially postponed any possible resort to force until next spring or summer, Netanyahu said to Channel 10, “I’ve never spoken of dates,” and added that he had not “for a second” ruled out Israel’s possibility “to act at any moment.”
“Not for one second did I give up on Israel’s right to defend itself at all times,” Netanyahu reiterated to a Channel 2 interviewer. “I did explain that Iran is at an advanced stage of uranium enrichment and we can’t accept [a scenario] in which Iran completes this stage.”
Queried as to whether his use of a rudimentary cartoon image trivialized the subject of Iran’s drive to the bomb — Mitt Romney said Friday he considered joking with Netanyahu over it — the prime minister said, “I don’t think so. It’s a serious subject. Everyone understands that.”
He said he “gave a lot of thought” as to how to render a complex issue comprehensible. And the buzz created by his “effective” speech, he said, was positive. “It’s a means to boost discussion of the issue.”
Pushed on the subject of dates for a possible resort to force, the prime minister said that it wasn’t a question of dates, but of processes. The nuclear enrichment process, he explained, was gradual and fluid, making it impossible to pinpoint the “red line” in terms of specific times.
The figures, however, would appear to be possible to pinpoint. Pressed specifically in the Channel 2 interview as to whether the line he drew on the cartoon bomb meant an attack would have to come before Iran had enriched 240 kg (529 lb) of uranium to 20% purity — enough for one bomb — Netanyahu did not contest the figures.
“We can’t let them get the fissile material,” he said. “If they continue at this rate, I believe a red line would be the best way to avoid the need for military action.”
Referring again to his speech, Netanyahu said, “I wanted to demonstrate to the international community that the process was going ahead. If we want to stop the Iranian nuclear program, we have to stop it before the enrichment process ends … we have to stop it in time…”
“The ‘red line’ should be drawn before Iran completes the second phase of enrichment of materials necessary for a first nuclear bomb. That’s what I said, it’s very clear.”
Asked about Washington’s reaction to his speech, Netanyahu said he had a good conversation with US President Barack Obama on the matter. “I believe that Israel and the United States can reach agreements that are far more consistent than what this or that analyst would suggest,” he said.
“It is important for every Israeli citizen and for the state of Israel to have the whole world focused on the Iranian nuclear program, to have the whole world focused on the question: how do we stop the Iranian nuclear program? For Israel and the United States, which are in agreement in principle on the need to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, to start debating this question … and I think it’s achievable.”
He said the US “respects Israel and a prime minister that stands up for our interests.”
“We are a small state threatened by a regime that aims to destroy us,” Netanyahu told his interviewer. “It has been developing, as if nobody were taking notice, weapons of mass destruction that are aimed at us first and foremost – at our cities, at our country. My goal as prime minister – and I do this on behalf of all the citizens of Israel – is to focus international attention and global pressure on this Iranian effort. And I believe that what I did yesterday at the United Nations serves this purpose, despite all the other aspects you describe.”
Netanyahu stressed that his position as leader of Israel – and, by extension, the Jewish people — was doubly important because it was precisely the lack of such leadership which had left the Jewish people defenseless in the past.
“When a different despot got up and said ‘I want to destroy the Jews,’ nobody noticed, no one said a word,” Netanyahu told Channel 2, adding that today Israel possessed defense capabilities and diplomacy with which to contend with threats. His job as prime minister of Israel, he said, was to organize Israel’s “considerable” defense mechanisms and “make the world aware of this threat.”