Official text on UN website says 'credible military threat'

Tehran accuses Netanyahu of threatening to nuke Iran in his UN speech

PM said Iran must face ‘credible nuclear threat,’ with his office quickly clarifying he misspoke; Iran UN envoy ignores this, condemns ‘alarming’ remark, warns of decisive response

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the United Nations General Assembly on September 22, 2023, in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images via AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the United Nations General Assembly on September 22, 2023, in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images via AFP)

Iran has accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of issuing a threat in his UN General Assembly speech last week to use nuclear weapons against the Islamic Republic, citing a line in which the premier’s office has clarified he misspoke.

Tehran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Amir Saeid Iravani, sent a letter of complaint to the UN secretary general and the presidents of the General Assembly and the Security Council, expressing “strong condemnation” of Netanyahu’s Friday address, the official IRNA news agency reported early Wednesday.

In the Monday letter, which Iravani said was sent at the order of the Islamic regime, he noted the “alarming and serious threat by the prime minister of the Israeli regime to make use of nuclear weapons against Iran.”

In his UN speech Friday, Netanyahu spent significant time on the Iranian nuclear threat and Tehran’s support for terrorism, and offered oblique criticism of US President Joe Biden’s administration and Western countries over the nuclear issue.

“Eight years ago, the Western powers promised that if Iran violated the nuclear deal, the sanctions would be snapped back. Well, Iran is violating the deal, but the sanctions have not been snapped back. To stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions, this policy must change. Sanctions must be snapped back,” said Netanyahu, who has been a staunch opponent of the 2015 nuclear deal.

“And above all, Iran must face a credible nuclear threat,” he said, continuing, “As long as I’m prime minister of Israel, I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.”

Netanyahu’s office put out a statement shortly after the speech saying he had misread the line and intended to say a “credible military threat,” a phrase he has frequently used, reflecting his oft-stated belief that only a combination of sanctions and the potent threat of military intervention can deter Iran from continuing to advance its rogue nuclear weapons program.

The official text of the Netanyahu speech, issued by the Prime Minister’s office soon after he had delivered his address, and available in PDF format on the UN General Assembly website, refers in that passage of the address to a “credible military threat.”

Iran’s UN Ambassador Amir Saeid Iravani addresses the UN General Assembly before a vote on a resolution upholding Ukraine’s territorial integrity and calling for a cessation of hostilities after Russia’s invasion, February 23, 2023 at UN headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Ignoring the clarification, Iravani wrote that Netanyahu had “made explicit threats to use nuclear weapons against an independent member state of the United Nations.”

“Considering that nuclear weapons are a threat to the existence of humanity and the planet, the severity of such a threat is incomparable and will cause a great shock to the international community, especially when such a threat comes from a credible forum,” he argued.

“The use or even the mere threat of using nuclear weapons, regardless of the circumstances, by anyone, at any time and in any place, is a clear violation of international laws,” Iran’s envoy added.

He claimed the threat “becomes more serious and intense” when coming from Israel, which he described as an “illegitimate regime that has been widely condemned for aggressions, for apartheid policies and for support for terrorism, as well as for possessing an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction alongside advanced conventional weapons.”

Iravani slammed Israel — which maintains a policy of nuclear ambiguity and has never admitted or denied having nuclear weapons — for not joining international treaties meant to curb the proliferation of those weapons.

He urged a “strong response from the international community” to Netanyahu’s speech, asserting Iran’s right for a “decisive response to any threats and illegal actions caused by the Israeli regime,” and asking for his letter to be published as a Security Council document.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu uses a red marker on a map of ‘The New Middle East’ as he addresses the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, September 22, 2023. (AP/Richard Drew)

In 2015, major world powers reached a deal with Iran, under which Tehran would curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from crippling economic sanctions. That started to unravel in 2018 when then-US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the pact and reimposed sanctions.

Tehran, in turn, stepped up its nuclear program. Efforts to revive the deal have been fruitless so far.

Iran sparked widespread concern last Saturday after blocking a third of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s most experienced inspectors from accessing nuclear facilities in the country, a move that was blasted by the IAEA’s chief as unprecedented.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that Iran’s nuclear program was a “destabilizing element” and accused Tehran of not being “interested in actually being a responsible actor” after booting the UN inspectors.

Iran’s foreign ministry linked the move to what it said was an attempt by the United States and three European countries to misuse the body “for their own political purposes.” The ministry appeared to be referring to Britain, France and Germany, which said Thursday they would maintain sanctions on Iran related to its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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