WASHINGTON – The US president's challenge is to stop Iran
from acquiring nuclear weapons, Benjamin Netanyahu
said in an interview conducted shortly before he was sworn in
as prime minister and published Tuesday by US magazine The Atlantic.
"The Obama presidency has two great missions: Fixing the economy, and preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu stated, referring to the Iranian threat as a “hinge of history” and adding that “Western civilization” will have failed if Iran is allowed to develop nuclear weapons.
The new prime minister took a blunt tone in the interview, saying that the entire world should fear the day Iran possesses a nuclear weapon. "You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs," he said.
According to Netanyahu, the Islamic republic threatens many other countries apart from Israel,
and so his mission over the next several months is to convince the world of the broad danger posed by Iran.
Netanyahu, who clarified he would manage Israel’s relationship with Washington personally, addressed Barack Obama's softened approach towards Iran, saying he would support the US president's decision to engage Iran, as long as negotiations brought about a quick end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“How you achieve this goal is less important than achieving it,” he said, but he added that he was skeptical that Iran would respond positively to Obama’s appeals.
The new prime minister explained that he believes economic pressure could yield positive results. “I think the Iranian economy is very weak, which makes Iran susceptible to sanctions that can be ratcheted up by a variety of means.”
The article stated that Netanyahu would not suggest a deadline for American progress on the Iran nuclear program, though one of his aides said pointedly that Israeli time lines are now drawn in months, “not years.”
Some of the prime minister's advisors, who were also interviewed, said they believe Iran’s defenses remain penetrable, and that Israel would not necessarily need American approval to launch an attack.
“The problem is not military capability, the problem is whether you have the stomach, the political will, to take action,” one of them said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
As for a possible dispute between himself and the US administration in terms of the settlement issue, Netanyahu said, “I can only point to what I did as prime minister in the first round. I certainly didn’t build new settlements" – perhaps pointing to a "natural growth" in the West Bank settlement, which the Obama administration is also expected to object to.
Asked if he could foresee agreeing on a “grand bargain” with Obama, in which he would move forward on talks with the Palestinians in exchange for a robust American response to Iran’s nuclear program, the prime minister said, “We intend to move on the Palestinian track independent of what happens with Iran, and I hope the US moves to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons regardless of what happens on the Palestinian track.”