NEW YORK—Faced with what he considers an existential threat to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spelled things out for world leaders in simple terms at the United Nations General Assembly. Actually, he drew things out.
Providing a cartoonish diagram of a bomb during his Sept. 27 address, Netanyahu drew a red line across where he thinks Iran’s nuclear program would be beyond the point of no return—sometime in the spring or summer of 2013.
“By next spring, at most by next summer at current enrichment rates, [Iran] will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage,” he said.
The remarks capped a week that featured a quintet of UN speeches that were of particular interest to the global Jewish community—those of Netanyahu, U.S. President Barack Obama, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi (though many Jews would not find out the specifics of Ahmadinejad’s and Morsi’s remarks until after the Yom Kippur fast ended Sept. 26).
While much attention at last year’s UN General Assembly focused on the Palestinians’ (failed) Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) bid, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict took a clear backseat this year to the nuclear threat posed by Iran.
Obama, like Netanyahu, characterized the Iranian nuclear threat as existential one for the Jewish state, saying Sept. 25 that a nuclear-armed Iran “would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy.”
Yet the Obama administration has not set the “red line”—a point after which, if Iran reaches it, the U.S. will take military action—that Israel has requested. Netanyahu, in his UN speech, re-emphasized the need to establish “clear red lines” for Iran. He said creating these limits would force Iran to back down in its nuclear efforts.
“I believe that faced with a clear red line, Iran will back down,” he said.
Netanyahu equated the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran to that of a nuclear-armed al-Qaida.
“It makes no difference whether these lethal weapons are in the hands of the world’s most dangerous terrorist regime or the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization,” Netanyahu said. “They’re both fired by the same hatred; they’re both driven by the same lust for violence.”
The prime minister did acknowledge that, “Under the leadership of President Obama, the international community has passed some of the strongest sanctions [against Iran] to date.” But diplomacy and sanctions will only go so far if clear red lines do not accompany them, Netanyahu said.
“Red lines don’t lead to war; red lines prevent war,” he said.
Earlier in September, Netanyahu issued stern words for Obama, saying: “Those in the international community who refuse to put a red line before Iran don’t have the moral right to place a red light before Israel.”
But after he departed the UN Sept. 27, Netanyahu struck a more conciliatory tone. Welcomed to Gracie Mansion by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that afternoon, Netanyahu said Israel is “in close consultation with the United States about how to practically prevent Iran from moving ahead and how to make them abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions.”
“I believe it is achievable and will continue to work towards that goal,” he said.
Netanyahu, though, remained as firm as usual about red lines, saying it is “important to be clear and unambiguous about our determination to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons… It can be stopped, if we are clear and resolved about the red line that Iran must not pass.”
While Abbas and Netanyahu spoke at the UN, a coalition including Israel advocacy group StandWithUs, the Coptic State of Egypt, Mothers Against Terrorism, Americans for a Safe Israel, the AMCHA initiative and the Human Rights Coalition Against Radical Islam held a pro-Israel rally on Second Avenue directly opposite the office of the Consulate of Israel in New York. Music kept the mood upbeat, sending the notes of “Am Yisrael Chai” wafted into the streets of the city.
Speakers called for America’s solidarity and support of Israel’s right to defend itself in the face of enemies seeking the destruction and elimination of the Jewish state. Sarri Singer—who in 2003 survived the Palestinian bombing of Jerusalem Bus 14—told the story of the attack that claimed the lives of 16 and injured more than 100.
“It can happen anywhere, at any time… An attack on any of us is an attack on all of us… We cannot be silent when 6 million Jews live in the constant shadow of an instantaneous Holocaust,” she said. “We need to stand strong.”
Rally participant Mark Langfan challenged decision-makers to consider the consequences of a Middle East without the stabilizing effect of the region’s sole democracy. “Any threat to Israel,” Langfan told JNS.org, “is a threat to America and western democracy.”
Abbas accuses Israel of ‘ethnic cleansing’
Abbas, who spoke before Netanyahu at the UN Sept. 27, accused Israel of carrying out “ethnic cleansing” in East Jerusalem.
“It is a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people via the demolition of their homes,” he said.
The PA leader also revealed his ongoing efforts to upgrade the Palestinians’ UN status.
“Intensive consultations with the various regional organizations and the state members” were underway, he said.
The Palestinians currently have non-member observer status in the UN. Abbas sought last year to gain full statehood member status, but failed to obtain the necessary votes in the UN Security Council for membership after the U.S. threatened a veto. Instead, Abbas is now seeking an upgrade to non-member state status, which does not carry the same weight as full statehood and only requires approval of the UN General Assembly.
Egypt’s Morsi vouches for Palestinian statehood
Morsi told the General Assmembly on Sept. 26 that his country is offering “full support to any course of action Palestine decides to follow in the United Nations.”
“I call upon all of you, just as you have supported the revolutions of the Arab peoples, to lend your support to the Palestinians in their endeavors to regain the full and legitimate rights of a people struggling to gain its freedom and establish its independent state,” Morsi, elected in June from the Muslim Brotherhood party, said.
Since Morsi’s rise to power, terrorist attacks in the Sinai and reports that Egypt is looking to amend its 1979 peace treaty with Israel have fueled concern in the Jewish state over relations with its southern neighbor.
Slamming Israel, the Egyptian president said at the UN that it is “shameful that the free world accepts, regardless of the justifications provided, that a member of the international community (Israel) continues to deny the rights of a [Palestinian] nation that has been longing for decades for independence.”
Ahmadinejad’s ‘different perspective’ features usual anti-Israel comments
Addressing the UN on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Ahmadinejad opened by saying he has been speaking on the world’s problems for seven years and that he wants to “raise such issues from a different perspective.”
His perpsective on Sept. 26, however, offered much of the same hostility to Israel and the West.
Ahmadinejad said Iran is faced by a continuous “threat by the uncivilized Zionists to resort to military action against our great nation,” and called for a new world order in which Western countries working for “the devil” are not in control.
Representatives from the U.S. and Israel decided not to be present for Ahmadinejad’s Yom Kippur remarks.
Obama: ‘Time is not unlimited’
Saying he is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, the U.S. president on Sept. 25 still voiced support for diplomacy, but noted that “time is not unlimited” to stop the Islamic Republic.
Obama said a nuclear-armed Iran “is not a challenge that can be contained.” His remarks also remembered U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, recently murdered along with three other diplomats by anti-American protesters in Benghazi. He emphasized that the Stevens assassination was an attack on all nations, not just the U.S.
“[The anti-American protests across the Middle East] are also an assault on the very ideals upon which the United Nations was founded,” he said.
—With reporting by Maxine Dovere, Jacob Kamaras and Sean Savage