Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the West against a rapprochement with Iran and denounced Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013 called it "a cynical speech full of hypocrisy." Despite Rouhani's claims to want to enter negotiations with the United States to end their nuclear program, Netanyahu believes it's just a "smoke screen" that will allow Iran to continue building nuclear weapons without the U.S. or U.N's suspicions and all while ending the economic sanctions imposed on by the international community.
As in past years, Netanyahu ordered Israel's delegation to walk out of the U.N. General Assembly before the start of the Iranian President's speech in protest. Israel was the only nation to boycott the Rouhani's speech. Netanyahu later defended his decision to do so, saying; "As the prime minister of Israel, the state of the Jewish people, I won't allow an Israeli delegation to be part of a cynical public relations show put on by a regime that denies the Holocaust and calls for our destruction."
Not everyone in the Prime Minister's cabinet agreed with the order; Finance Minister Yair Lapid of the center left, Yesh Atid party that has the second largest number of Knesset seats made it clear in a statement that not only does he oppose Netanyahu recalling the delegation, but opposes the Prime Minister's entire policy towards Iran. Lapid stated; "Israel does not need to be perceived as a serial refuser of negotiations, who is not interested in solutions on the road to peace. We should let the Iranians be the refusers of peace, and not look like the ones who aren't open to change."
Netanyahu does not think the new Iranian President's overtures are real having previous called him, a "wolf in cheep's clothing" who intends to continue with the previous regime's policy concerning building their nuclear capability and hatred towards Israel. Netanyahu began his statement saying; "We will not be fooled by half-measures that merely provide a smokescreen for Iran's continual pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the world should not be fooled either."
Rouhani was elected in June and took over Iranian leadership in August. Except for agreeing to have their Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meet with Secretary of State John Kerry, which they did at the general assembly's sidelines on Thursday, Sept. 26, and some more diplomatic rhetorical overtures, the Iranian regime has not done anything tangibly different than their predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The Prime Minister also responded to U.S. President Barack Obama's speech at the U.N. general assembly particularly the President's comments towards Iran. Netanyahu expressed; "I appreciate President Obama's statement that 'Iran's conciliatory words will have to be matched by action that is transparent and verifiable,' and I look forward to discussing this with him in Washington next week."
Obama in his address tied the Israeli and Palestinian peace talks, and the eventual creation of a Palestinian state to ending Iran's nuclear weapons program with diplomacy. Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud) believes; "If this is the wind now blowing in our direction from the White House, we should expect enormous pressure from [Obama] later."
Netanyahu then proceeded to compare Iran with North Korea, saying that Iran is taking a play from the dictatorship's book. Netanyahu intends to focus his U.N. address on this very argument; "Iran thinks that soothing words and token actions will enable it to continue on its path to the bomb. Like North Korea before it, Iran will try to remove sanctions by offering cosmetic concessions, while preserving its ability to rapidly build a nuclear weapon at a time of its choosing."
Not to show that Israel is against diplomacy and peaceful resolutions, as opposed to military solutions, Netanyahu stressed Israel would ideally like this diplomatic solution to work if it's real, saying; "Israel would welcome a genuine diplomatic solution that truly dismantles Iran's capacity to develop nuclear weapons."
Netanyahu strongly spoke out against the Iranian president's speech; his response was intending to be the voice of reason within the international community. An Israeli official stated that Netanyahu realizes he is "spoiling the party," the international community's hope that Iran really wants peace, however, he feel he has a "moral obligation" to warn that Iran will only change through actions not just what the Prime Minister believes is empty rhetoric. The official explained; "The prime minister is aware that he's spoiling the party. Many people in the international community want to believe in Rouhani's charm offensive. But the prime minister believes firmly that we haven't seen change of substance. And he will make his case even if there are those who believe that he's spoiling the party, even if he risks sounding like a broken record. He believes that's his moral obligation."
The Iranian President was attempting to make an impression on the world's leaders, hoping to convince them Iran has changed its ways in a short period of time, primarily hoping to get the internationally imposed economic sanctions lifted. In his short 25-minute speech he mentioned the word "peace" 19 times even in reference to their nuclear program, and also denounced the economic sanctions imposed on Iran. Rouhani stated; "Iran poses absolutely no threat to the world or the region… Our national interests make it imperative that we remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran's peaceful nuclear program." In a post-speech CNN interview, he even made some acknowledgement that there was a Holocaust, and condemned it, but in his speech he still condemned Israel by stating he is against the "institutionalized aggression against the innocent Palestinian people," and that "Palestine is under occupation."
There was nothing tangible, however, in his speech indicating steps Iran would take to change. Additionally, although the White House indicated that President Obama was willing to meet with Rouhani, the Iranian President refused even a brief meeting between the two leaders, even forgoing the U.N. leaders' luncheon fhosted by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to avoid personal questions and interactions from western heads of state. The two leaders later spoke on the phone for 15 minutes on Friday afternoon, Sept. 27, after which Netanyahu order all his cabinet ministers and staff to refrain from giving any interviews to the press.
PM Netanyahu's response to Rouhani's speech pointed to the two main ways that Iran is deceiving the West in his address to the U.N., and where the words do not match their actions; Rouhani's contradictions on human rights, while Iran is involved and supports President Bassar Al-Assad in the Syrian War and his claims to want end their nuclear program that lack any specific offer and steps to end their quest for nuclear capability.
Netanyahu spoke of Iran's human rights record; "Rouhani spoke about human rights at a time when Iranian forces are participating in the slaughter of innocent civilians in Syria. He condemned terrorism at a time when the Iranian regime carries out terrorism in dozens of countries worldwide. He spoke of a peaceful nuclear program at a time when the IAEA has established that the [Iranian] program has military characteristics, and when it's plain to all that one of the world's most oil-rich nations is not investing a fortune in ballistic missiles and underground nuclear facilities in order to produce electricity."
The Prime Minister then spoke of Iran's nuclear program; "It was not for nothing that his speech had no realistic offer to halt Iran's nuclear program and contained no commitment to uphold U.N. Security Council resolutions. This is exactly the Iranian plan -- to talk, and buy time, in order to advance Iran's capacity to attain nuclear weapons."
Netanyahu made sure to remind the world Rouhani's past political actions regarding nuclear weapons, and that he is not a new democratic leader coming to change Iran as he wants everyone to believe. The Prime Minister concluded; "Rouhani knows this well -- he is proud of how he fooled the West ten years ago [as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator], when Iran was negotiating while simultaneously advancing its nuclear program. The international community must judge Iran by its actions, not its words."
The Israeli Prime Minister sent Israeli Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz to the U.N. General Assembly for meetings with world leaders and the U.N. Secretary General during the first week of the UNGA, Steinitz echoed Netanyahu's position, saying; "We're seeing a charm offensive, moderation and pleasantry from the new president, Rohani. As of now, we're not seeing any change in substance."
PM Netanyahu is scheduled to speak at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, where he intends to focus on Iran's nuclear threat and compare their new diplomatic overtures with those that North Korea made when they signed an agreement in 1994 to end their nuclear program only to continue more ferociously with it less than ten years later, and they are still continuing with their program saying they now possess nuclear weapons.
Excerpts from drafts of Netanyahu's speech include lines such as; "Iran must not be allowed to repeat North Korea's ploy to get nuclear weapons… just like North Korea before it, Iran professes to seemingly peaceful intentions. It talks the talk of nonproliferation while seeking to ease sanctions and buy more time for its nuclear program."
The Prime Minister left on Saturday evening, Sept. 28, after the end of the Sukkot holiday and Shabbat for The United States, where he will spend three days on diplomatc meetings. Speaking at the Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv Netanyahu told reporters; "I will present our rights as a nation, our determination to defend ourselves and our hopes for peace. I will speak the truth. Facts must be stated in the face of the sweet talk and the blitz of smiles."
Upon arriving in the U.S. Netanyahu will first meet with staunch Israeli ally Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in New York on Sunday, Sept, 29. He will then meet with President Obama on Monday, Sept. 30, at the White House, before heading to New York again where on Oct. 1 he will be the last world leader to speak at the concluding day of the U.N. General Assembly. PM Netanyahu is hoping that giving the concluding remarks so to speak which will leave the most lasting impression on the topic.
- PM Netanyahu Instructs Israeli UN Delegation not to be Present during Iranian President’s Remarks, Sept. 24, 2013
- PM Netanyahu's Statement on the Opening of the UN General Assembly, Sept. 24, 2013 -- Video