As the Jewish world celebrates Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the new year, Israeli premier Binyamin Netanyahu warned that the Islamic Republic of Iran is but seven months away from building a nuclear weapon. Speaking directly to American television viewers on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ program, Netanyahu said "You have to place that red line before them now, before it's too late," while also saying that such a move by the United States could reduce the chances of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear weaponization program. Even though Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmedinjad has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel, his government has continued to deny it is developing weapons even though it has conducted missile tests and large military exercises designed as a show of military muscle.
Netanyahu, who has been dubbed by some pundits as an ally of Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, said that by the middle of 2013, Iran will have 90 percent of the enriched uranium it needs for a bomb. He urged the United States to spell out limits or “red lines” that bellicose Iran must not transgress if it is to avoid military action. Thus far, President Barack Obama has refused to do so. According to the Jerusalem Post, Obama told 1,200 American rabbis on September 14 during a conference call that he was not would not impose a “set of conditions” on how to counter Iran.
Also on September 14, Iranian President Ahmadinejad commented upon the relationship between the US and Israel, stating that American decision-makers have come to the understanding that Israel is “no longer beneficial to them.” Ahmadinejad added that Zionists are seeking ways to "disturb the game."
The dispute between the United States and Israel spilled out into the public square following the American president’s decision not to meet with Netanyahu this month during the upcoming United Nations summit in New York City. The refusal underscores a divide between the two nations, while it complicates Obama’s re-election plans even while he seeks to put a lid on concerted terrorist attacks on American diplomatic personnel and missions in Muslim-dominated countries. The appearance on the program could add further tension to the relationship between the two leaders and their respective countries.
Netanyahu’s statements on ‘Meet the Press’ is by far the clearest marker in his effort to induce Obama to present Iran with an ultimatum about the latter’s nukes. Netanyahu showed no signs of timidity during his September 16 appearance, while he appeared to equate the danger of Iranian nukes with the Muslim fury unleashed last week in which attacks on American officials and embassies came on September 11 while Americans were commemorating the loss of life of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. "It's the same fanaticism that you see storming your embassies today. You want these fanatics to have nuclear weapons?" the usually urbane Netanyahu asked in the television interview.
The Israeli leader claimed that Iran needed to hear an ultimatum from the United States. "They're in the 'red zone'," Netanyahu said. Continuing with the football lingo, the Israeli premier said "They're in the last 20 yards. And you can't let them cross that goal line. Because that would have unbelievable consequences." When he was asked whether Israel would go it alone in an attack on Iran despite Obama’s call to wait, Netanyahu said "We always reserve the right to act. But I think that if we are able to coordinate together a common position, we increase the chances that neither one of us will have to act."
The Jerusalem Post theorized that Netanyahu sought to extend an olive branch to Obama, saying "I think implicit in that is that, if you're determined to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, it means you'll act before they get nuclear weapons." A September 16 article in the respected journal said: “But Netanyahu, whose persistent ‘red line’ demands have infuriated US officials, again made clear that was not enough.” Netanyahu said, “It's important to communicate to Iran that there's a line that they won't cross," and "I think a red line, in this case, works to reduce the chances of the need for military action. Because once the Iranians understand that there's a line that they can't cross, they're not likely to cross it."
On CNN, Netanyahu said, "They're moving very rapidly to completing the enrichment of the uranium that they need to produce a nuclear bomb. In six months or so they'll be 90 percent of the way there," in reference to Iran's enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity, which Iran says is a level required for medical isotopes but which is also close to bomb-fuel grade. According to an August 2012 report by UN inspectors, Iran has stockpiled 91.4 kg of the 20 percent material. Experts say around 440-550 pounds of the material is the minimum required to enrich further into enough material for a bomb, a threshold Iran could potentially reach soon by producing roughly 33 pounds a month with its massed centrifuges, a rate that could be sped up if it activates new uranium centrifuges.
Israeli Defense Minister and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak has warned that Iran may be approaching what he called a "zone of immunity" in which Israeli blockbuster bombs would be unable to penetrate Iran’s deeply buried weaponization facilities. Even so, Israel is widely believed to possess the only nuclear arsenal in the Mideast.
Investigative journalist Edwin Black has written extensively on the subject of Iran’s threats and its development of nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Writing about Israel’s possible response, “ Israel will wait until the last moment, diplomatic sources say, allowing every nonmilitary lever to work. Ultimately, Israel will rely upon itself as it did when it destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 in Operation Babylon and the budding Syrian-North Korean reactor in 2007 in Operation Orchard. To the question of when any such attack on Iran might occur, the best minds say, ‘He who knows does not speak; he who speaks does not know.’ But the best sense is that when and if it happens, the noise will be deafening and reverberate for a long time.”
Here follow excerpts from the Meet the Press interview of Prime Minister Netanyahu and NBC host David Gregory:
1) On Iran
GREGORY: Is it your view that this administration is either unwilling or unable to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: No. President Obama has said that he’s determined to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and I appreciate that and I respect that. I think implicit in that is that if you’re determined to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, it means you’ll act before they get nuclear weapons. I just think that it’s important to communicate to Iran that there is a line that they won’t cross. I think a red line in this case works to reduce the chances of the need for military action because once the Iranians understand that there’s no-- there’s a line that they can’t cross, they are not likely to cross it, you know, when President Kennedy set a red line in the Cuban missile crisis, he was criticized. But it turned out it didn’t bring war, it actually pushed war back and probably purchased decades of peace with the Soviet Union. Conversely, when there was no American red line set before the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and maybe that war could have been avoided. And I can tell you David that Iran has been placed with some clear red lines on a few matters and they have avoided crossing them. So I think that as they get closer and closer and closer to the achievement of weapons grade material, and they are very close, they are six months away from being about ninety percent of having the enriched uranium for an atom bomb, I think that you have to place that red line before them now before it’s-- it’s too late. That was the point that I was making.GREGORY: As a prime minister of Israel, has Iran crossed your red line?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, the way I would say it David is they are in the red zone. You know, they are in the last 20 yards. And you can’t let them cross that goal line. You can’t let them score a touchdown because that would have unbelievable consequences, grievous consequences, for the peace and security of us all-- of the world really.
2) On Mitt Romney
GREGORY: Your criticism, your calling on President Obama to set this red line, comes in the middle of a heated presidential campaign. You understand the American political system very well. You’re very sophisticated in that regard. In your view, would Governor Mitt Romney as President Romney make Israel safer? Would he take a harder line against Iran than President Obama in your judgment?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: God, I’m-- I’m not going to be drawn into the American election. And-- and what’s guiding my statements are-- is not the American political calendar but the Iranian nuclear calendar. They’re just-- you know, if they stop spinning the centrifuges for-- and took timeout for the American elections, I wouldn’t have to talk. And I wouldn’t have to raise this issue. But as the prime minister of Israel, knowing that this country committed to our destruction is getting closer to the goal of having weapons of mass destruction then I speak out. And it’s got-- it’s really not a partisan political issue. And I think it’s important for anyone who is the president of the United States to be in that position of preventing Iran from having this nuclear weapons-- nuclear weapons capability. And I’m talking to the president. I just talked to him the other day. We are in close consultations. We’re trying to prevent that. It’s really not a partisan issue. It’s a policy issue not a political issue.
3) On Containment
GREGORY: Why can’t Iran be contained just as the Soviet Union was? There are those in your country and in the United States who believe that a containment strategy would actually work?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I think Iran is very different. They put their zealotry above their survival. They have suicide bombers all over the place. I wouldn’t rely on their rationality, you know, you-- since the advent of nuclear weapons, you had countries that had access to nuclear weapons who always made a careful calculation of cost and benefit. But Iran is guided by a leadership with an unbelievable fanaticism. It’s the same fanaticism that you see storming your embassies today. You want these fanatics to have nuclear weapons? I mean, I’ve heard some people suggest, David, I actually I read this in the American press. They said, well, you know, if you take action, that’s-- that’s a lot worse than having Iran with nuclear weapons. Some have even said that Iran with nuclear weapons would stabilize the Middle East-- stabilize the Middle East. I-- I think the people who say this have set a new standard for human stupidity. We have to stop them. Don’t rely on containment. That is not the American policy. It would be wrong. It would be a grave, grave mistake. Don’t let these fanatics have nuclear weapons. It’s terrible for Israel and it’s terrible for America. It’s terrible for the world.
GREGORY: Prime Minister, one more question on the American election. You have been accused this week by pundits in this country of trying to interfere in this presidential election, siding with Governor Mitt Romney. Now, Governor Romney for a year, and he said it in his convention speech, has said, quote, “President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus.” Do you agree or disagree with Governor Romney’s charge? It’s a serious charge.
4) On the riots in the Middle East
GREGORY: Final question on the broader Middle East and what we’re seeing this week. This anti-American and indeed anti-Israeli rage throughout the Middle East attacking our embassy, killing a United States ambassador as you well know. What has been unleashed and what can United States and its allies specifically do to contain it?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, look, I-- I-- I think people focus on the spark. The spark of reprehensible and irresponsible film is a-- is a spark, but it’s not-- it doesn’t explain anything. I mean, it doesn’t explain 9/11. It doesn’t explain the decades of animosity and the grievances that go back centuries. In fact, there’s a tinderbox of hatred here from a virulent strain of Islam that takes moderate Muslims and Arabs and attacks them first but seeks to deprive all of us of the basic-- the basic values that we have. They’re against the human rights. They’re against the rights of women. They’re against freedom of religion. They’re against freedom of speech and freedom of expression. They’re against all the things that we value. They’re against tolerance. They’re against-- they’re against pluralism, and they’re against freedom. And they’re-- they’re-- they view not your policies but you, the very existence of United States and its values, and by extension Israel. They view that as an intolerable crime. And we have to understand that. We have to deal with it. And we have to be the close support because in-- in this vast expanse of land, you can understand why they are so-- so antagonistic to us because for them we are you and you are us. And at least on this point they’re right.
5) On upcoming UN General Assembly meetings
GREGORY: Finally, prime minister, did you feel snubbed not getting a face-to-face meeting with President Obama in New York during the upcoming U.N. meetings? Would you like to have that face-to-face encounter? Would it be helpful to your relationship at this point?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: You know, I’m always pleased and-- and happy to have a conversation with President Obama. He’s-- I think he’s met me more than any other leader in the world and I-- I appreciate that. We’ve had our discussions. Our-- our schedules on this visit didn’t work out. I come to New York and he leaves New York. But we continue in close consultations. We have urgent business, Israel and America, to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. I think it’s important to delineate a red line for Iran so we’re not faced with a conundrum of what to do if we don’t place a red line and they just proceed to the bomb.