New Iran leader a ‘change in style, not of substance,’ Netanyahu says

Prime minister says Hasan Rowhani won’t change course on nukes; also calls for Israeli ports to be reformed, defends gas export decision

Illustrative photo of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the Israeli Presidential Conference in 2011.  (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the Israeli Presidential Conference in 2011. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Iran’s new leader presents a smiling face, but does not represent a change in policy for the regime in Tehran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during his address to the closing session of the 2013 Israel Presidential Conference on Thursday evening.

The Islamic Republic must not be allowed to build a nuclear weapon, the prime minister said, speaking to a packed crowd of dignitaries on a wide range of topics currently facing Israel.

The recent election results, which carried the relatively moderate Hasan Rowhani into the Iranian presidency, reflect the will of the people, he said, but not the will of the regime. Rowhani represents “a change in style, but not of substance,” Netanyahu added, calling for Iran to “abide by international demands” and stop enriching uranium and shut down illicit nuclear facilities.

The “greatest threat we face,” Netanyahu said, is that the “most dangerous weapons” will fall into the hands of the “most dangerous regime,” namely, Iran, which “cannot be allowed to possess nuclear weapons.”

Netanyahu started off by contending with a number of hecklers, who protested the government’s recent decision to earmark 40 percent of gas from newly discovered offshore fields for export.

Netanyahu said developing the resource was essential for growing Israel’s economy, jokingly telling the crowd that Moses was actually a great navigator, bringing the Jews to a land of milk, honey and gas.

Israel, it turns out, is “a land of milk and honey and gas,” he said. “Who would have believed that Israel would be an energy power? We were lucky enough to not discover gas in our first 60 years, because we had to rely on our ingenuity,” he added. Israel would use its newly discovered offshore natural gas fields to power the country, but also for export, “for the benefit of all Israelis,” he said.

Referring to the recent $1.3 billion sale of navigation app firm Waze to Google, Netanyahu also said Israel’s high-tech industry was key toward the country’s economy, saying that everywhere he went people were only interested in Israeli technology.

Netanyahu vowed to reform Israel’s ports, saying this would allow the country to open new markets to Israeli technology, and continue to develop infrastructure, transportation and education in Israel.

The prime minister used the speech to reiterate his call for peace negotiations with the Palestinians “without conditions… we are ready to begin negotiations now,” he said. “Ramallah and Jerusalem are only 15 minutes away.”

Speaking after Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres said the conference was a shining example of how to fight efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state.

“This conference carries a winning strategy against delegitimization,” he said. “ It is entirely a conference of legitimization for the state of Israel, it’s future, it’s path before it. It radiates the strength of friendship for Israel.”

While not dealing with specific policy issues, Peres warned that the path toward creating a better future would not be an easy one.

“Our path to a better tomorrow will be sown with serious and difficult obstacles, but these will not stop the path of fruitful minds and creative people like those who gathered here at this conference,” he said.

He also said the conference, which had over 2,000 guests, including many international movers and shakers, had created a net gain for Jerusalem’s and Israel’s economies.

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