Iran is only months away from crossing a threshold that should provoke military action against its nuclear program, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday, warning world leaders that “the hour is getting late” for blocking Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly urged the U.S. to convey a clear “red line” which Iran must not cross if it is to avoid a strike on its nuclear facilities, something the Obama administration has declined to do. Mr. Netanyahu drew one himself – literally.
Standing at the podium before the UN General Assembly, he took out a rudimentary drawing of a round bomb, complete with a lit fuse, and used a red marker to indicate the point at which military intervention should be triggered.
That moment, Mr. Netanyahu said, would come when Iran has completed the second of three stages of enriching enough uranium necessary for a weapon – a milestone he asserted would be reached next spring or early summer. According to that, a hypothetical attack by Israel would be unlikely before the U.S. presidential election in November.
“At this late hour, there is only one way to peacefully prevent Iran from getting atomic bombs and that is by placing a key red line on Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “Red lines don’t lead to war. Red lines prevent war.”
Mr. Netanyahu’s use of the bomb diagram – branded cartoonish by some observers and dramatic by others – followed a long discussion on the threat posed by an Iranian nuclear weapon not just to Israel, but to the larger world.
“Who among you would feel safe in the Middle East? Who would be safe in Europe?” Mr. Netanyahu asked. “Who would be safe in America? Who would be safe anywhere?”
Mr. Netanyahu said international sanctions have hurt the Iranian economy but have not stopped the progress of the country’s nuclear program.
The quest to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon is one of the major issues under discussion in New York this week, where world leaders have gathered for the annual general debate of the United Nations.
The Iranian regime insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful power-generation purposes, and not to develop nuclear weapons.
Later on Thursday, Mr. Netanyahu met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He is also expected to speak with President Barack Obama by phone on Friday, the coda to a controversy that erupted when it emerged that Mr. Obama would not meet with him in person. Mr. Obama left New York on Tuesday without holding one-on-one meetings with any world leaders and immediately returned to the campaign trail.
Earlier this month, a panel of former U.S. ambassadors, foreign-policy experts, and retired military officers released a report detailing the costs and benefits of a military strike on Iran. An operation by the U.S. and Israel could set back Iran’s nuclear program by four years, they said, but would provoke retaliation by Iran and likely deepen its motivation to secure an atomic weapon.
Mr. Netanyahu devoted much more time in his 30-minute speech to the perceived threat from Iran than the moribund peace process with the Palestinians.
Earlier on Thursday, the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, told the Assembly that his people’s plight could not “withstand further delay or procrastination” or be relegated to “the bottom of the global agenda.”
Mr. Abbas said his government was working with other UN members to bring forward a new resolution that would give Palestine the status of “non-member state,” a step up from its current role as an observer “entity.” Last year Palestine made an unsuccessful bid to become a full member state of the UN.
The push to upgrade Palestine’s status is not an effort to attack an “existing state, that is Israel,” Mr. Abbas said. “We are not trying to de-legitimize them. They are trying to de-legitimize us.”
Decrying the growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and policies that he said amounted to “ethnic cleansing,” Mr. Abbas told the assembled diplomats that “rewards continue to be illogically bestowed upon Israel” despite policies of “war, occupation and settlement colonization.”
However, Mr. Abbas maintained, there is “still a chance – maybe the last – to save the two-state solution and to salvage peace.”
One of the most anticipated speeches of the day came from Thein Sein, the President of Myanmar, who said the country formerly known as Burma had taken “irreversible steps” in its transition toward democracy.
“Within a short time, the people of Myanmar have been able to bring about amazing changes,” he said.
In a move that would have been unimaginable for a leader from Myanmar even two years ago, Mr. Thein Sein publicly complimented opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. “As a Myanmar citizen, I would like to congratulate her for the honours she has received in this country in recognition of her efforts for democracy,” he said.