Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the Brookings Institution Saban Conference this morning via satellite. He responded to the substance of President Obama’s inane remarks at the forum yesterday. Netanyahu engages in the obligatory praise of President Obama and Secretary Kerry that is laughable under the circumstances, and he necessarily restates the express points of agreement between the public positions of the United States and Israel. His remarks are framed in diplomatic and ironic language, yet he gets to the heart of the issue between Israel and the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza (addressed first) and the issue of Iran’s nuclear program (addressed next).
The Prime Minister’s office has posted the text of Netanyahu’s remarks here. The video of Netanyahu’s remarks is below, with the remarks on Iran kicking in at 8:45.
Here is an excerpt of Netanyahu’s remarks on Iran’s nuclear program:
I don’t think I can overstate, I don’t think any of us can overstate the Iranian danger. So for the peace and security of the world, Iran must not be allowed to maintain the capability to produce nuclear weapons – not today and not tomorrow. The world must not allow Iran to be a threshold nuclear weapons state with the option to cross that threshold at a time of its choosing. Therefore, unlike the recent interim deal, any final deal must bring about the termination of Iran’s military nuclear capability.
I have expressed my concern since before Geneva that the sanctions would begin to unravel. I heard today that Iran’s president said that in fact the situation in Iran economically is already markedly improved since the accords were announced. They haven’t even been put in place yet. So steps must be taken to prevent further erosion of the sanctions. Because ultimately, the sanctions remain an essential element of the international effort to compel Iran to dismantle its nuclear military infrastructure: to take apart the centrifuges; to tear down the heavy water reactor; to eliminate the current stockpiles of enriched uranium; to cease the development of ballistic missiles and the work on weaponization, which by the way the Geneva agreement does not address. None of these things that Iran insists it must have – none of them is necessary for a peaceful nuclear program.
So while Israel is prepared to do what is necessary to defend itself, we share President Obama’s preference to see Iran’s nuclear weapons program end through diplomacy. But for diplomacy to succeed, it must be coupled with powerful sanctions and a credible military threat.
Now let me repeat that: A diplomatic solution is better than a military option. But a military option is necessary for diplomacy to succeed, as are powerful sanctions.
We all agree that after a couple of years of tough sanctions, Iran finally began to negotiate seriously. Because of the pressure, what seemed impossible yesterday became possible today. We should not assume that more and tougher sanctions won’t lead to a better deal. What seems impossible today could become possible tomorrow.
My friends, preventing Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability is the paramount challenge of our generation because a nuclear-armed Iran would literally change the course of history. It would threaten the peace and security of us all by arming the world’s most dangerous regime with the world’s most dangerous weapons. I think we’ve learned from history that regimes with unlimited appetites act out their fantasies and their made ideologies when they think they have the weapons of mass death or at least incalculable power.
That’s what usually happens. Such power in the hands of such regimes unleashes the worst ambitions. It’s not that they don’t have diplomats – they do. They have diplomats, some of them even wear ties. They might speak English and they might make PowerPoint presentations where in the past they just spoke English and they spoke reasonably well. But when the powers behind the throne, the power on the throne is committed to a radical ideology and pursues it and talks about it again and again and again, then I say: Beware. We’ve learned in our experience, the experience of the Jewish people, to take seriously those who speak about our annihilation, and we will do and I will do what is necessary to protect the Jewish state and the future of
the Jewish people.
In “Bibi shoots back” Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu usefully summarizes Netanyahu’s remarks on Iran’s nuclear program:
Netanyahu countered several American claims, particularly those of The New York Times and some Obama administration officials, that Israel is exaggerating the threat of Iran. “Regimes with unlimited appetites act out their mad ideologies,” Prime Minister Netanyahu told the Saban Forum.
“The Jewish people take seriously those who speak of our annihilation. The Prime Minister also threw another monkey into Obama’s wrenching deal with Iran. He said no deal with Iran should be concluded without a declared change in what he called its “genocidal policy.”
Noting that Iranian president Hassan Rouhani last month called Israel “a rabid dog,” the Prime Minister stated that Rouhani regime “is committed to our annihilation, and I believe that there must be an uncompromising demand at the Geneva talks, for a change in Iran’s policy.
“In other words, there needs to be not just a change in the capability of Iran to arm itself, but also a change in its policy of genocide.
Perhaps the most telling remarks by Prime Minister Netanyahu were his six closing words: “Thank you all – and good luck.”
It had a slight intonation, of “good luck because you are going to need all you can get and that won’t be enough.”
On that last point, the reporter may be right, but I don’t think Bibi was speaking ironically. When it comes to luck, we’re all going to need it.