Iran nuclear threat: Netanyahu goes to the people - the American people, that is

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argues his case for establishing 'red lines' on Iran's nuclear program on NBC and CNN today.

Gali Tibbon/AP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press conference with his Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borissov, not seen, in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Sept. 11. On Sunday interviews with Netanyahu will air on NBC and CNN. He will argue the US should establish clear restrictions on Iran's nuclear program.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taking his case for stronger action against Iran straight to the American people, after facing stiff opposition from the Obama administration.

“Iran is guided by a leadership with an unbelievable fanaticism,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press. “It’s the same fanaticism that you see storming your embassies today. You want these fanatics to have nuclear weapons?”

Mr. Netanyahu’s interviews with NBC and CNN, airing this morning, coincide with a report that Israeli officials have been trying in vain for months to convince their US counterparts of an increasing radicalization across the Middle East.

Those trends, Israel reportedly warned, concern not only Israel but also US interests in the region, according to an article in Israel’s left-leaning Haaretz newspaper.

"The Americans were constantly trying to supply explanations and excuses for events in the post-revolution Arab states, and simply ignored the problems," a senior Foreign Ministry official is quoted as saying. "Only now, after what happened to their embassies, the Americans are beginning to understand the situation.”

Netanyahu reaffirmed the strength of the US-Israel alliance in a far-ranging interview with the Jerusalem Post published today. But he said that Israel’s location in a rough neighborhood makes it more sensitive to regional security threats than the US. Speaking specifically about the threat from Iran, he said Israel has a “duty, responsibility, and a right to sound the alarm.”

Over the weekend, Iran and its allies made a series of threatening statements toward both the US and Israel.

On Friday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reiterated his conviction that the "Zionists" would disappear, while a military adviser to Iran’s supreme leader threatened retaliation in the event of an Israeli strike, according to Reuters.

"The boldness and foolishness of Israeli officials in threatening the Islamic Republic, have put Israeli citizens one step away from the cemetery," said Yahya Rahim-Safavi. "If, one day, the Israeli regime takes action against us, resistance groups, especially Hezbollah ... will respond more easily."

The following day, Iran's Revolutionary Guards Deputy Commander Hussein Salami implied broader action, including against the United States, the Iranian Students' News Agency reported.

"In case of any act of aggression against Iran, we will take war inside the enemies' borders and will defeat them heavily," said Mr. Salami of the Revolutionary Guards, echoing a recent threat from Iranian proxy Hezbollah that it would retaliate against US targets in the Middle East in the event of an Israeli strike.

After a flurry of Israeli threats to strike Iran imminently, the rhetoric has quieted somewhat. A top aide to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who has reportedly cooled to the idea of a unilateral strike, said this weekend that an attack would be unlikely during the Jewish High Holidays, which begin today and run for three weeks.

But Netanyahu, by most reports, remains genuinely anxious about the Iran nuclear program.

They’re in the red zone,” Netanyahu said in an interview on NBC News “Meet the Press,” according to Bloomberg. “You know, they’re in the last 20 yards. And you can’t let them cross that goal line. You can’t let them score a touchdown.”

In the same interview, he said a policy of containment such as the US had with the Soviet Union was unfeasible because Iran's leadership is different.  

"I think Iran is very different, they put their zealotry over their survival – they have suicide bombers all over the place," he said. "I wouldn’t rely on their rationality."

Netanyahu’s interviews today appear to be part of a push to get the US to agree to “red lines” for Iran.

As Israelis prepare to celebrate the Jewish new year tomorrow, the traditional prayers include an admission of guilt. When Netanyahu was asked by the Jerusalem Post about what he needs to ask forgiveness for, he said that on the national level his main regret of the past year was that “we have not yet stopped Iran.”

“We have done a lot, but we have not yet achieved that goal,” said the prime minister. “When you interview me next year, I hope I can give you a different answer.”

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