Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday and sent a clear message that Israel was prepared to attack Iran, alone if necessary, to prevent the Iranian regime from emerging as a nuclear-armed power. His tone was defiant, a sharp contrast to the conciliatory posture struck by U.S. President Barack Obama in his own address to the General Assembly a week earlier.
Though not a direct response to Obama’s address, Netanyahu methodically attacked the idea that Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, signaled a moderation of the regime’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Reading from Rouhani’s own past statements, and noting Iran’s ongoing violations of UN Security Council resolutions and provocative behavior, he advised the UN to heed Iran’s actions, not Rouhani’s words.
Amidst signs that the Obama administration might be prepared to accept an Iranian compromise of being allowed to enrich uranium to 5% levels, Netanyahu insisted that Iran’s nuclear weapons program needed to be dismantled in its entirety, or else the regime would retain the ability to race to a bomb at a time and pace of its choosing. Netanyahu also insisted on strengthening sanctions to keep pressure on the Iranian regime.
In addition, Netanyahu reiterated his support for ongoing peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. He closed his speech–and the General Assembly’s opening session–by relating a story about how his grandfather and great-uncle were once confronted by an antisemitic mob, vowing that Israel would never again allow the Jewish people to be defenseless against those who seek their destruction.
Following Netanyahu’s address, the Iranian delegation exercised its right of reply and asserted Iran’s “inalienable right” to develop its nuclear “energy” program. It stated that Iran “strongly reject[ed]” nuclear weapons for “any nation” and supported “genuine non-proliferation concerns,” and citing alleged “Islamic teachings” that “advise” Muslims not to pursue nuclear weapons but to “abolish them all.”
Against the concerns of “some” other nations, the Iranian delegation said, it was committed to “meaningful, time-bound, and results-oriented” negotiations regarding its nuclear program and the removal of sanctions. “Other parties also need to adopt the same approach,” the Iranian delegation said, citing the “current, positive atmosphere” that had emerged, contrasting it to Netanyahu’s “extremely inflammatory” speech.
“I do not want to dignify such unfounded accusations with an answer other than categorically rejecting them all,” said the Iranian representative. Without referring to Netanyahu by name, the Iranian representative accused Netanyahu of trying to “dictate” to Iran. “The one who is badly in need to be educated about these issues is Israel,” he said, insisting that Israel submit to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Accusing Netanyahu of “abusing” the UN, the Iranian representative suggested that Israel apply for an international award for violence, particularly against its neighbors and the Palestinians, and warned that “the Israeli Prime Minister had better not even think about attacking Iran, let alone planning for that,” stating that Iran was prepared to defend itself. The General Assembly was silent in response.