If the Iranian regime acquires nuclear weapons, the Iranian people will never be free of the tyranny and will suffer forever, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told BBC Persian on Thursday, peppering his remarks with words in Farsi.
During the interview, his first to a Farsi-language station, Netanyahu addressed the Iranian people directly, telling them the ayatollahs’ regime was responsible for the harsh sanctions and socio-economic situation they are enduring.
“You don’t want them [the regime] to have nuclear weapons because you’ll never get rid of this tyranny,” he warned.
“I would welcome a genuine rapprochement, a genuine effort to stop the nuclear program, not a fake one, not harf-e pootch [‘nonsense’ in Farsi]. “We are not sadeh-lowe [‘suckers’ in Farsi],” said the prime minister.
“The Iranian people are paying a steep price for the military nuclear program the regime insists it doesn’t have,” Netanyahu said.
“I saw the desire of the Iranian people to have real freedom, a real life. The Iranian and Israeli people can be friendly once this regime falls.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani countered on twitter that Israel is upset because Iran’s message is being heard.
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) October 3, 2013
On Wednesday night, meanwhile, Netanyahu spoke to American Jewish leaders at a closed media event, telling his audience that Rouhani’s charm offensive was not proving as successful as many observers assume.
Netanyahu said press coverage of the Iranian leader’s efforts to woo the West — notably in a UN speech 10 days ago, and a series of media interviews — might have exaggerated the effect it had on the public.
Netanyahu was addressing a select group of leaders from AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA).
The prime minister also rejected critics who said his policies on Iran and the Palestinians isolated Israel, and said his stance on Iran is closer than many might imagine to that of many worried Arab states in the region. Israel’s Channel 2 reported Wednesday that Netanyahu was presiding over “intensive contacts” with unnamed Arab and Gulf leaders to form a new alliance against Iran, amid fears that the US would be duped by Tehran in the nascent diplomatic process.
Netanyahu also reiterated the message conveyed during his UN speech on Tuesday and subsequent media interviews: If Iran keeps forging ahead toward nuclear weapon capabilities, Western powers should increase the sanctions.
Addressing the US’s position that respects Iran’s right to civilian nuclear energy, Netanyahu countered that many other nations use civilian nuclear power without enriching their own uranium. He also flatly rejected the prospect of a partial deal, saying he agrees with US Secretary of State John Kerry that a bad deal is worse than no deal.
Earlier on Wednesday, Netanyahu took to the US airwaves, persistent in his effort to convince the international community that Rouhani’s charm offensive at the UN last week was an act meant to cover up Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.
“Everybody knows that Iran wants to destroy Israel and it’s building — trying to build atomic bombs for that purpose,” Netanyahu told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.
“You don’t want to be in a position where this messianic, apocalyptic, radical regime that has these wild ambitions but nice spokesmen, gets away with building these weapons of mass [destruction].”
Asked by Mitchell whether he ran the risk of overstating the threat and isolating Israel from the rest of the world that wants to see a diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue, the prime minister answered in the negative.
“No, no, I want a diplomatic solution, but one that actually dismantles Iran’s nuclear program,” he said.
Netanyahu dismissed the notion that Rouhani was freely elected, saying Iranians would topple the regime if they could.
“These people, the Iranian people, the majority of them are actually pro-Western,” he stated, adding, “But they don’t have that. They’re governed not by Rouhani, they’re governed by Ayatollah Khamenei. He heads a cult. That cult is wild in its ambitions and its aggression.”
Netanyahu had extended his trip to the US by an extra day, with the aim of speaking to as many American media outlets as possible about the Iranian nuclear threat.
Speaking to PBS’s Charlie Rose, Netanyahu said that Arab states have a historic opportunity to ally with Israel to advance regional security, stability and peace in the face of the Iranian threat.
Netanyahu emphasized his commitment to national security and urged caution when dealing with Iran. “We just have to make sure that in this state of flux, we do the right things and not the wrong things. Because we can easily upset the applecart in a way that we won’t be able to put it back together,” he told PBS. “We cannot do that, we have to be very responsible, buck the trends, don’t go by fashion. If you govern by fashion and you govern by the kind of editorials you’re gonna get, you’ll get good editorials and later you’ll get good eulogies.”
“My responsibility is to ensure the survival, security, longevity of the one and only Jewish state. I will do that pursuing peace, and I’m prepared to make historic compromises,” Netanyahu said, perhaps alluding to ongoing peace talks with the Palestinians. Despite this, he said he would “never compromise on Israel’s security.”
“By the way, Iran, Charlie, would not be interested in having one bomb or two bombs. They’re gearing up with their infrastructure for 200 bombs. And they’re not developing those ICBMs for us. They can reach us with what they have. It’s for you,” Netanyahu warned.
On Monday, with a US government shutdown looming, Netanyahu spent hours with President Barack Obama at the White House discussing Iran and making sure the US would keep up the pressure on the regime in Tehran.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu vowed at the UN General Assembly that Israel would stop Iran’s nuclear drive on its own if necessary. “Israel will never acquiesce to nuclear arms in the hands of a rogue regime that repeatedly promises to wipe us out,” he said. Still, he stressed, he did not dismiss the diplomatic-sanctions route. “We all want to give diplomacy with Iran a chance to succeed,” he said.
On Wednesday, Rouhani responded unequivocally to Netanyahu’s UN speech, promising to continue what Iran insists is a peaceful nuclear program with “full power.”
“Israel is upset to see that its sword has gone blunt and Iran grows more powerful day by day,” Rouhani told reporters in Tehran, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.
Yoel Goldman contributed to this report.