The moment of truth on Iran “is not days or weeks away, but neither is it years away,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday. “We can’t allow Iran to go nuclear… I’m not going to allow it.”
Netanyahu was speaking in a Channel 2 interview, the latest in a series of TV appearances since his talks with President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday.
He said he hoped the international pressure on Iran would prompt the regime there to halt its nuclear drive, but that one way or another “the threat of a nuclear Iran must be turned aside.”
It would be a betrayal of past and future generations were Iran allowed to attain the bomb, he said. “If I don’t make the right decision, there may be no one to explain it to.”
Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, meanwhile, told Army Radio that Israel had not discussed “lights” or “lines” with the US over an attack on Iran. “We didn’t discuss green or red lights,” he said. “We didn’t discuss lines of any kind.”
Iran’s Ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Rokn-Abadi, warned that any Israeli attack on Iran would have “painful” consequences. Iran’s missiles were aimed at Israeli targets and could reach any Israeli or US bases in the region, he said. “Any aggressive move against us will prompt a painful response.”
And Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, reiterated that his country “will never, ever suspend our nuclear activities,” insisting that the program is exclusively for peaceful purposes. “The truth is, Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon.”
Still, he said, Iran “is ready to re-engage with IAEA… A new chapter (has) opened.”
Soltanieh said international sanctions and cyber attacks against Iran will not prevent it from developing nuclear energy, and that sanctions were only hurting its citizens. The continued Israeli threat of attack against Iran’s nuclear installations, he noted, is against international law, and called on the United Nations to condemn and take action against Israel.
Netanyahu, at AIPAC, made a strident speech in which he declared that no one could afford to wait much longer to thwart the Iranian nuclear drive. Israel, he added, would be the master of its fate, and he would not let his people “live under the shadow of annihilation.”
But a Maariv report on Thursday claimed he had agreed to hold off an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities until at least the year’s end, and that in return Obama had promised to supply Israel with more of the military tools to do the job should it be necessary. The US will supply Israel with bunker-busting bombs and refueling planes, Maariv reported, in return for delaying a strike against Iran until at least the end of the year.
Netanyahu is soaring in current opinion polls — a Haaretz survey on Thursday gave his Likud party 37 seats, compared to 14 for Labor and 10 for Tzipi Livni’s Kadima. But the same survey also found that 58 percent of Israelis oppose an Israeli strike on Iran without US backing.
In an interview with Fox News after his AIPAC speech, Netanyahu already sounded milder than he had before the 13,000 AIPAC delegates. He disagreed that war was inevitable, and argued that Iran will back down if confronted with the real prospect of going to war, as it did in 2003 when it feared the US-led coalition might turn its attentions to Iran after Iraq. “The paradox is that if they actually believe they are going to face the military option, you probably won’t need the military option,” Netanyahu said. He added that Israel has the right to act in its own defense. “It’s a question of the assessment of when you have to activate that right,” he noted.
The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday had quoted US officials saying the previous day’s Obama-Netanyahu talks had “eased the pressure” on Israel to attack Iran.
According to the Maariv report, during their talks on Monday, Obama promised Netanyahu the latest deep-penetration arms from the US arsenal as well as airborne tankers to refuel strike jets necessary for an Israeli attack on Iran. In return, the paper said, Israel will agree to not take any action until at least the end of 2012, after the upcoming US presidential elections.
Although rumors of the possible supply of new bombs and planes began to circle even while Netanyahu was still in the US, Maariv’s claim, based on Western sources, is that the equipment will be supplied only on condition of Israel’s delaying an attack.
Obama gave Israel neither a green light for an attack, nor a red light, but rather a “bright yellow light” that was tantamount to a red one, sources told Maariv.
Obama made it clear to Netanyahu that an Israeli attack, uncoordinated with the US, will have the most serious implications on regional stability and relations between the two countries. Maariv said that sources close to the recent meetings in Washington reported that it will be “difficult, if not impossible” for Israel to ignore Obama’s warnings.
Central to the difference of opinions is at what stage of the uranium enrichment process it will become necessary to use military force. According to intelligence reports, Iran has succeeded in enriching 120 kilogram (265 lbs.) of uranium to 20 percent purity. To make a bomb the Iranians require 250 kg (550 lbs) of 90% pure uranium. However, enriching from 20% to 90% is a relatively fast process, meaning Israel may see its window for action closing.
According to Maariv, the US is prepared to wait until Iran has 250 kg of 20% rich uranium. But Israel, the paper reported, considers the current stage of Iran’s progress to be beyond Israel’s own red line for action.
Listing the manifold dangers that a nuclear-equipped Iran presents to Israel and the US — from using atomic weapons itself to providing a terrorist proxy with a device or closing the Strait of Hormuz to drive up oil prices — Netanyahu said to Fox News, as he had to the AIPAC audience, that it was important to talk about the cost of not stopping Iran. Such inactivity could result in a “hinge of history,” he said.
The Israeli prime minister also expressed pessimism about reopening negotiations with the Iranians about their nuclear program. “I think they will try and bamboozle and I think they can get away it,” he said. Only real, practical results — such as removing all of the enriched uranium from Iran’s facilities — would be acceptable. Failure to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran will spark an arms race in the region that could turn the Middle East into a nuclear tinderbox, he warned.