Netanyahu pledges to thwart Iran ‘before it’s too late’

Appearing on CBS’s ‘Face the Nation,’ PM calls for world to take nuke threat seriously, keeps mum on strike against Syrian arms depot

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Netanyahu's nuclear diagram, presented at the UN General Assembly in September 2012. (photo credit: IBA screenshot)
Netanyahu's nuclear diagram, presented at the UN General Assembly in September 2012. (photo credit: IBA screenshot)

Israel’s prime minister insisted Sunday that he would act to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and also that he would not allow “dangerous weapons” to reach Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorists —  following reports that Israel recently carried out an airstrike in northern Syria against a shipment of advanced missiles.

Speaking to CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Netanyahu refused to confirm or deny his country’s role in an attack on a Syrian missile depot earlier in the month, despite several reports of American officials pointing to Israel as behind the strike.

“My policy is to prevent the transfer of dangerous weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon and other terror groups as well. And we stand by that policy,” he said.

The airstrike in Latakia reportedly targeted Russian Yakhont anti-ship missiles, one of the types of advanced weapons that Israeli officials have previously said they would not allow to reach Syria. Foreign reports indicate it could be the fourth Israeli airstrike against Syria this year, though Israel has confirmed none of them.

Israel has been closely watching the Syrian conflict since it erupted in March 2011. While officials say it has been careful not to take sides in the civil war, Israel has repeatedly said it would take action to prevent what it calls “game changing” weapons, including chemical weapons and advanced guided missiles, from reaching Hezbollah or other hostile militant groups.

Netanyahu called on the US to harden its position toward Iran until Tehran stops all nuclear enrichment and dismantles the Qom reactor, among other steps. “If sanctions don’t work,” he urged, “then they have to know that you’ll be prepared to take military action.”

Netanyahu also pointed out that he has “a feeling there is no sense of urgency on Iran.” It was unclear, however, who exactly he was referring to by that statement.

Throughout the interview, Netanyahu made sure to send a stern message about Israel’s resolve to prevent the Islamic Republic from achieving a nuclear weapon. “If they think that Israel will let them do it,” he said, “they’re sorely mistaken.

“I won’t wait until it’s too late,” he promised.

Earlier in the day, Netanyahu made a similar appeal to his Cabinet, calling for a “credible military threat” against Iran, together with harsher sanctions.

In response to host Bob Schieffer’s question whether the Obama administration has been too patient with Iran, Netanyahu hinted there is indeed disagreement between the two sides. “Our clocks are ticking at a different pace,” he said. “We’re closer [to Iran] than the United States, we’re more vulnerable.” Israel might have to address the question of how to stop Iran before the United States does, the prime minister noted.

Despite the election of Hasan Rouhani, the new Iranian president, pressure should remain on the Islamic Republic, Netanyahu told CBS. “There’s a new president in Iran,” he said. “He’s criticizing his predecessor for being a wolf in wolf’s clothing. His strategy is to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Smile and build a bomb.”

Netanyahu claimed that Iran had “taken heed” of the red line he laid out last fall at the UN, but, he warned, “they are still approaching it; and they are approaching it after the Iranian elections.”

Netanyahu stressed the potential threat Iran posed to the United States. “They are building ICBMs to reach the American mainland within a few years…,” he said. “They don’t need these missiles to reach us.”

The interview touched on other regional issues as well. Schieffer asked Netanyahu if he was happy with the ouster of Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi. “We’ve been concerned with one thing,” answered Netanyahu, “and that is the maintenance of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.” He called it the “cornerstone of peace between us and our neighbors.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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