Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the stage as the concluding world leader to speak at the 68th United Nations General Assembly in New York City on Oct. 1, 2013 to warn the world against the threat Iran still holds with their nuclear weapons program, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's deception misleading everyone that he wants to end the program through diplomacy, and Iran's similarity to North Korea. Netanyahu also sent a message that Israel will never allow Iran to acquire nuclear capability, and would take military action if they do. He continued relaying his message the day after his speech on Oct. 2, 2013 where Netanyahu spoke to the American media about the Iranian threat.
Netanyahu's 30-minute speech was meant to counter Rouhani's speech given a week earlier at the General assembly. The Prime Minister's speech was filled with facts and history, an attempt to debunk the illusion of the Iranian President's "charm offensive" on the West, and reveal the Rouhani's "ruse" and the real Iran.
The Prime Minister's speech was peppered with biblical history and quotes, and illusions to Jewish history and the Holocaust. He began and ended his speech with those themes, hoping to relate ancient ties and history to modern problems, especially the Jewish biblical right to Israel, stating; "we re-established our sovereign state in our ancestral homeland, the land of Israel." He also tried to related ancient relations between Israel and Persia in order to give proof that Israel's issue with Iran only has to do with the Islamic regime that took hold on in 1979.
From there the Israeli Prime Minister delved right into the present problems with Iran. Netanyahu pointed out that it really does not matter who Iran's president is because the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sets the tone for the country, and only the public approach can be different, saying; "like the presidents who came before him, is a loyal servant of the regime."
Netanyahu described why Rouhani was allowed "to be one of only six candidates the regime permitted to run for office," because of his position as the chief of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, which he held from 1989 to 2003. The Israeli PM then recounted what Rouhani's human rights violations were in that position; "During that time Iran's henchmen gunned down opposition leaders in a Berlin restaurant. They murdered 85 people at the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. They killed 19 American soldiers by blowing up the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia."
Netanyahu also highlighted that Rohani had been "Iran's chief nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005," where "he masterminded the -- the strategy which enabled Iran to advance its nuclear weapons program behind a smoke screen of diplomatic engagement and very soothing rhetoric."
Although the new Iranian president sounds less offensive than his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, their differences are only rhetorical. Netanyahu clarified; "Rouhani doesn't sound like Ahmadinejad. But when it comes to Iran's nuclear weapons program, the only difference between them is this: Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf's clothing, Rouhani is a wolf in sheep's clothing, a wolf who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community." The Prime Minister warned that Iran has extreme differences between their "words" and "actions" and "we must focus on Iran's actions" calling it a "brazen contrast" and "extraordinary contradiction."
Prime Minister Netanyahu than recounted the ways the Rouhani does not represent a change of Iranian policy, as his rhetoric suggests. He described the Iranian regime's support for Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, and "directly participates in Assad's murder and massacre." Netanyahu cited Iran being responsible for terrorist attacks worldwide and for "destabilizing" the Middle East. Netanyahu stated; "I wish I could believe Rohani, but I don't because facts are stubborn things, and the facts are that Iran's savage record flatly contradicts Rohani's soothing rhetoric."
The Prime Minister then went into to describing the "deceit and secrecy" in Iran's nuclear development program and pertaining to the uranium enrichment program, and building "intercontinental ballistic missiles." Netanyahu asked the audience; "Why would a country that claims to only want peaceful nuclear energy, why would such a country build hidden underground enrichment facilities?" and he explained; "You don't build ICBMs to carry TNT thousands of miles away; you build them for one purpose, to carry nuclear warheads."
Netanyahu said that Iran claims that they do not intend to create nuclear weapons; however, he concludes; "Why would they do all this? The answer is simple. Iran is not building a peaceful nuclear program; Iran is developing nuclear weapons." Netanyahu also explained that Iran has not crossed his red line in order "to rush forward to build nuclear bombs before the international community can detect it and much less prevent it."
Prime Minister Netanyahu then focused his attention on the international community's economic sanctions imposed on Iran, saying; "Iran faces one big problem, and that problem can be summed up in one word: sanctions." He continued; "That's why Rohani got elected in the first place. That's why he launched his charm offensive. He definitely wants to get the sanctions lifted; I guarantee you that. But he doesn't want to give up Iranians' nuclear - Iran's nuclear weapons program in return."
Netanyahu described the methodology of the Iranian President's "charm offensive" giving an example of Rouhani's rhetorical play about Iran's uranium ore enrichment program at Isfahan. Iran wants to keep their uranium enrichment program saying it is for peaceful civilian reasons, while Netanyahu says complete dismantling includes the uranium enrichment.
Netanyahu then made the correlation between Iran's tactics and North Korea, declaring; "You see, Rohani thinks he can have his yellowcake and eat it too. And he has another reason to believe that he can get away with this. And that reason is called North Korea. Like Iran, North Korea also said its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes. Like Iran, North Korea also offered meaningless concessions and empty promises in return for sanctions relief."
Netanyahu warned that; "A nuclear-armed Iran in the Middle East wouldn't be another North Korea. It would be another 50 North Koreas." Continuing he also warned of the danger they impose that should not be dismissed; "I know that some in the international community think I'm exaggerating this threat…. The last century has taught us that when a radical regime with global ambitions gets awesome power, sooner or later its appetite for aggression knows no bounds. That's the central lesson of the 20th century. And we cannot forget it. The world may have forgotten this lesson. The Jewish people have not."
The Israeli PM explained the steps needed for a diplomatic solution to be effective and required in a "complete dismantling" of Iran's nuclear program; "First, cease all uranium enrichment…. Second, remove from Iran's territory the stockpiles of enriched uranium. Third, dismantle the infrastructure for nuclear breakout capability…. And, four, stop all work at the heavy water reactor in Iraq aimed at the production of plutonium."
The Prime Minister called on the world to maintain and tightened sanctions on Iran; "First, keep up the sanctions. If Iran advances its nuclear weapons program during negotiations, strengthen the sanctions. "He told the international community not to agree to "partial deals," because "a partial deal would lift international sanctions that have taken years to put in place in exchange for cosmetic concessions that will take only weeks for Iran to reverse." He stated that only when "Iran fully dismantles its nuclear weapons program" should the sanctions be lifted.
PM Netanyahu explained that he supports diplomacy, as long as the world will not be fooled by Iran; "We all want to give diplomacy with Iran a chance to succeed, but when it comes to Iran, the greater the pressure, the greater the chance. Three decades ago, president Ronald Reagan famously advised, 'trust but verify.' When it comes to Iran's nuclear weapons program, here's my advice: Distrust, dismantle and verify."
Netanyahu simplified his speech's message concluding that Israel will take military action to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons; "Israel will never acquiesce to nuclear arms in the hands of a rogue regime that repeatedly promises to wipe us out. I want there to be no confusion on this point. Israel will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone. Ladies and gentlemen, Israel will never acquiesce to nuclear arms in the hands of a rogue regime that repeatedly promises to wipe us off the map. Against such a threat, Israel will have no choice but to defend itself."
Netanyahu spent a few minutes towards the end of his speech discussing the present peace talks with the Palestinians focusing on the desired outcomes. He expressed; "We want peace based on security and mutual recognition, in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the Jewish state of Israel. I remain committed to achieving an historic reconciliation and building a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike."
The Prime Minister however, acknowledged the elusive difficulty in obtaining peace, explaining; "Six Israeli prime ministers, myself included, have not succeeded at achieving peace with the Palestinians. My predecessors were prepared to make painful concessions. So am I. But so far the Palestinian leaders haven't been prepared to offer the painful concessions they must make in order to end the conflict. For peace to be achieved, the Palestinians must finally recognize the Jewish state, and Israel's security needs must be met.
Continuing he reiterated Israel's need for security, and he would not make any compromises on that issue; "I am prepared to make an historic compromise for genuine and enduring peace, but I will never compromise on the security of my people and of my country, the one and only Jewish state."
As he began his address he ended it with biblical references and Jewish history, including a personal anecdote tying it into the Jewish right to Israel and the country's right to protect itself and ensure its security. Netanyahu recounted about a story about his grandfather in 19th century Europe and his helpless feeling after experiencing an anti-Semitic attack, where "They beat him senseless, they left him for dead, and before he passed out, covered in his own blood, he said to himself, 'What a disgrace, what a disgrace. The descendants of the Maccabees lie in the mud powerless to defend themselves.'" His grandfather vowed if he survived he would move his family to Israel.
Netanyahu continued his account emphasizing the strong unbreakable bond Jews have with Israel; "And so many other Israelis have a similar story, a parent or a grandparent who fled every conceivable oppression and came to Israel to start a new life in our ancient homeland. Together we've transformed a bludgeoned Jewish people, left for dead, into a vibrant, thriving nation, a defending itself with the courage of modern Maccabees, developing limitless possibilities for the future."
Netanyahu concluded his address with a biblical passage he recited in both English and then in Hebrew; "In our time the biblical prophecies are being realized. As the prophet Amos said, 'They shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them. They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine. They shall till gardens and eat their fruit. And I will plant them upon their soil never to be uprooted again.'" His final words were a vow "the people of Israel have come home never to be uprooted again."
Reaction to Netanyahu's speech has ranged from praise for his rhetoric, as a best delivered speech to extremely negative. The response has also been along ideological lines, with the Prime Minister's supporters and conservatives being the most supportive, and critics and liberals even among American Jews and Israeli politicians criticizing the speech.
Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis of Likud, Netanyahu's own party declared; "This may be Netanyahu's most important speech of the past several decades." While Member of the Knesset Eli Yishai from the Ultra Orthodox and Conservative Shas Party praised Netanyahu's rhetoric; "Standing there, he honorably represented the entire nation. I hope that his cry rouses those who are sleeping." Opposition Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich of the liberal Labor Party was cautious, but critical in her remarks, stating; "The international community must not form the impression or come to believe that the Iranian problem is solely Israel's problem." Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Gal-On, whose party is one of the most Liberal in the Knesset, fiercely opposed the Prime Minister's speech claiming; "Netanyahu is going back to the old rhetoric of threats and fear-mongering."
The reaction from the United States was supportive, but with an attempt at trying to retain some diplomatic neutrality. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney speaking at the daily press briefing stated; "We've said all along, as the president has said, we understand, and it is entirely justifiable, that Israel is skeptical about Iran and Iran's intentions. After all, this is a country [Iran] whose leadership, until recently, was pledging to annihilate Israel…. We share with Israel and with Prime Minister Netanyahu the same goal and the same firm policy, which is [that] Iran cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.
The reaction from Iran proved many Netanyahu's points right; they let their Israel hatred shine, demonstrating that no matter the leader and public relations campaign Iran will not change on Israel, and most probably will not on other issues including their nuclear program. Iranian ambassador to the United Nations Mohammad Khazaee gave an immediate response fiercely denouncing Netanyahu's entire speech and warned; "The Israeli prime minister had better not think about attacking Iran, let alone planning it."
Iranian President Rouhani gloated to the press, saying; "Israel is upset to see that its sword has gone blunt and Iran grows more powerful day by day." Rouhani remarks were tame in comparison to media reports about Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif's response, in which he "attacked" Netanyahu, and reportedly said that the Israeli Prime Minister is "the most isolated person at the UN and that his nuclear armed country that has slaughtered the Palestinians for the past 60 years must not be allowed to blackmail the international community."
Netanyahu continued the next day on Oct. 2, with a media campaign to be able to elaborate on and follow up on the main themes of his message in more relaxed settings and reach a larger audience through television.
In his interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell he spoke of the Iran threat to Israel, saying; "Everybody knows that Iran wants to destroy Israel and it's building - trying to build atomic bombs for that purpose… 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]." However, Netanyahu pointed again that he would prefer a diplomatic as opposed to a military resolution; "No, no, I want a diplomatic solution, but one that actually dismantles Iran's nuclear program."
When interviewed by Charlie Rose for his PBS show, Netanyahu emphasized his number one priority is Israel's security when dealing with both the Iranian threat and in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Netanyahu stated; "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," promising to "never compromise on Israel's security."
The day before Prime Minister Netanyahu might have given President Barack Obama the light version of his Iranian message, but his address at the U.N. was hard hitting, with no ambiguity on Israel's take on Iran and position concerning their nuclear program, and stance in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Netanyahu made sure that the world knows that Israel has been since biblical times the Jewish land, and will always remain so, that Israel will also always maintain its right to protect security whether the threat is from Iran or the Palestinians, and those two rights are non-negotiable. Iran's response was filled the same anti-Israel rhetoric that always came from them, proving Netanyahu right that Iran's softer words are a just ruse, hopefully the world will trust Israel's U.N. message more than Iran's before it is too late.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Oct. 1, 2013
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.