This year at the United Nations General Assembly, there were no props of drawings with red lines on them. But aside from that, nothing much had changed in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to diplomats. The Israeli prime minister kept hammering away at what has become an utterly predictable point: Iran is on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons and they pose an existential threat to Israel. He opened up his speech with a reference to a “nuclear-armed Iran that seeks our destruction.”
Netanyahu’s speech was all about the Islamic Republic, and it was filled with the typical rhetorical flourishes the world has come to expect. “Rouhani thinks he can have his yellowcake and eat it too,” the prime minister said. He hit the familiar points: the Holocaust; the scourge of anti-Semitism; Iran’s sponsorship of overseas violence; and a demand for the Islamic Republic to capitulate to Israeli demands. You can watch it all here:
Haaretz‘s Barak Ravid aptly called the speech “tired, bothersome and boring.”
What was different this time was that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had come to town the week before, and had wowed diplomats with a conciliatory message. Gone was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s questioning of the Holocaust, his insinuation that 9/11 was an American plot. Instead, Rouhani came with a message that his country was not developing nuclear weapons, and was ready for negotiations with the West and the U.S. Last Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry met face to face with the Iranian foreign minister, and then the historic phone call between President Obama and Rouhani took place on Friday.
So Netanyahu came to spoil the positive atmosphere, and he didn’t disappoint. He clearly wishes Ahmadinejad was still in power. “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,” he said.
He had four demands for Iran, which amount to a total cave-in that the country is never going to accept:
First, cease all uranium enrichment. This is called for by several Security Council resolutions. Second, remove from Iran’s territory the stockpiles of enriched uranium. Third, dismantle the infrastructure for nuclear breakout capability, including the underground facility at Qom and the advanced centrifuges in Natanz.
And, four, stop all work at the heavy water reactor in Iraq aimed at the production of plutonium. These steps would put an end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program and eliminate its breakout capability.
And Netanyahu had demands for a different audience: the rest of the world. Here’s what he wants them to do:
First, keep up the sanctions. If Iran advances its nuclear weapons program during negotiations, strengthen the sanctions.
Second, don’t agree to a partial deal. 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.
Third, lift the sanctions only when Iran fully dismantles its nuclear weapons program. My friends, the international community has Iran on the ropes. If you want to knock out Iran’s nuclear weapons program peacefully, don’t let up the pressure. Keep it up.
Netanyahu eventually got to the Palestinians, but only devoted about 20 lines to them. He repeated his demand that “Palestinians must finally recognize the Jewish state, and Israel’s security needs must be met.”
The Israeli leader may be more comfortable talking about Iran than Palestine, but this year he was boxed in to a corner by the new Iranian leadership. Still, his words carry immense weight in the U.S., and they will hang over the air of future talks between Iran and the West.