Netanyahu says Israel ‘cannot afford to wait much longer’ on Iran as he wraps up Washington visit

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of the dangers of a nuclear Iran, according to a report by Israel’s Haaretz daily. (Reuters)

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday called on the international community to acknowledge the fact that Iran was developing nuclear weapons. His comments came as he winds up a high-profile U.S. visit focused on Iran’s perceived nuclear threat after warning that his country would not live in the “shadow of annihilation.”

Netanyahu is expected to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and visit the U.S. Congress a day after keenly-watched talks with President Barack Obama against the backdrop of speculation over a possible Israeli strike on Iran, according to AFP.

“Unfortunately, Iran’s nuclear program has continued to march forward. Israel has waited ... for diplomacy to work, we’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer,” Netanyahu told some 13,000 attendees early Tuesday in a speech before the AIPAC pro-Israel lobbying group.

“As prime minister of Israel I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.”

Netanyahu warned of the dangers of a nuclear Iran, according to a report by Israel’s Haaretz daily. “A nuclear-armed Iran would dramatically increase terrorism by giving terrorists a nuclear umbrella,” he said. “That means that Iran’s terror proxies like Hezbollah, Hamas will be emboldened to attack America, Israel, and others because they will be backed by a power with atomic weapons.”

While Clinton has voiced exasperation in the past over settlement building in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem under Netanyahu, he enjoys strong bipartisan backing on Capitol Hill.

Netanyahu saluted Congress during the AIPAC speech, saying that more than half the members of the legislature were guests in the audience.

He then asked delegates “to stand up and applaud the representatives of the United States,” prompting a standing ovation.

“Democrats and Republicans alike, I salute your unwavering support for the Jewish people,” he added.

Netanyahu will meet Congressional leaders later Tuesday, winding up the two-day visit in which he held crucial talks with Obama on Monday over how best to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The Obama administration has signaled that it does not yet believe Iran has taken a decision to develop a nuclear weapon, or that the time is right for military action, preferring to give biting new sanctions time to work.

However Israel, which sees a possible Iranian nuclear weapon as a threat to its existence, believes that Iran may be on the cusp of “break out” capacity -- the moment when it could quickly produce weapons-grade uranium.

In his speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Netanyahu sought to minimize the differences between himself and Obama.

“(Obama) stated clearly that all options are on the table and that American policy is not containment,” Netanyahu said.

“Israel has exactly the same policy. We’re determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, we leave all options on the table and containment is definitely not an option.”

Netanyahu said that for the world to allow Iran -- which he said was dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state -- to attain a nuclear arsenal evoked memories of U.S. refusal in World War II to bomb the Auschwitz Nazi death camp to prevent the mass extermination of Jews there.

“My friends, 2012 is not 1944”

Netanyahu drew a parallel with arguments against attacking Iran by saying that the War Department explained that such an operation at Auschwitz could provoke “even more vindictive action by the Germans.”
“Think about that, even more vindictive action than the Holocaust,” Netanyahu said, according to the report published by Haaretz.

He dismissed arguments that an attack on Iran would provoke such a heavy Iranian retaliation. He held up a copy of a 1944 letter from the U.S. War Department rejecting world Jewish leaders’ entreaties to bomb the Auschwitz death camp because it would be “ineffective” and “might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans.”

“My friends, 2012 is not 1944,” Netanyahu said. “Today, we have a state of our own. And the purpose of the Jewish state is to defend Jewish lives and to secure the Jewish future.”

Netanyahu told Obama on Monday that Israel must remain the “master of its fate” in a firm defense of his right to mount a unilateral strike on Iran.

Obama assured Netanyahu he had Israel’s “back” but also stressed that he saw a “window” for diplomacy, despite rampant speculation Israel could soon mount a high risk go-it-alone military operation.

The leaders, who have had a famously testy relationship, met for two hours of talks amid clear signs of differences on the imminence of the perceived Iranian nuclear threat, if not its ultimate danger to both nations.

In an impassioned on-camera statement, Netanyahu told Obama: “Israel must have the ability always to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”

“That’s why my supreme responsibility as prime minister of Israel is to ensure that Israel remains the master of its fate.”

A senior U.S. official said Washington now believed after the meeting that Netanyahu understood that Obama was deeply serious about preventing Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

An Israeli official commented that Israeli concerns were now also widely understood, but did not elaborate.

According to Haaretz, Israel’s Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz is to visit Washington in two weeks to discuss the issue with U.S. officials.

In the days before Netanyahu arrived, Obama bolstered his rhetoric on Iran -- making clear he did not “bluff” and would order military action if necessary, but refused to set public “red lines” for such a response.

The U.S. official said the administration believed it would have up to a year to decide on how to respond should Iran decide to begin enriching uranium to weapons-grade quality. Israel does not share that timetable.

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