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Netanyahu addresses General Assembly Photo: AP
Netanyahu addresses General Assembly Photo: AP
 
 
Ron Ben-Yishai  

 

No shticks or tricks: Speech to Obama and Putin

Analysis: PM Netanyahu's masterful UN address added credibility to Israel's threat of solo strike on Iran

Published: 10.02.13, 11:31 / Israel Opinion

PM Netanyahu's address to the UN General Assembly this year was pragmatic. It was devoid almost entirely of emotion, and did not include any shticks and tricks. The speech was directed at three main target audiences: Decision-makers in the international community – beginning with Obama's government and the US Congress, then Berlin, London, Brussels, Moscow and Beijing. The other target audience was Israeli public opinion leaders, and the third – public opinion leaders among Jews in the Diaspora.

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Netanyahu understood that the timing of his speech was awful, maybe as awful as could be. The American public is focusing solely on the budget crisis and the shutting down of government; most heads of state have left the UN and the various delegations are shopping on Fifth Avenue. It was disheartening to see the prime minister speak before a half-empty hall. Netanyahu realized this, so he wrote a speech that was meant for the ears of people who are in the know. It was a speech of an attorney or the CEO of a large corporation.

 

Netanyahu built his "case" layer by layer. He began by explaining that Israel has hopes but that past experience has taught its citizens to be cautious. Then he presented his proof that Hassan Rohani is a wolf in sheep's clothing, saying that Iran was deceiving the West and that a nuclear Iran would be 50 times more dangerous than nuclear North Korea. The PM simply listed the measures he believes the international community - and mainly the West - should take.

 

Netanyahu repeated the four demands from Iran which he has mentioned a number of times over the past few weeks, but he added a new one: A stop to the activity of advanced IR-2 centrifuges at the enrichment facility in Natanz. Should the Iranians accept this demand, they would be left with only some 10,000 active centrifuges. Such a number would not allow them a quick breakthrough toward the production of fissile material used to make nuclear weapons.

 

Netanyahu's new demand may be the most important one, because the infrastructure of centrifuges that Iran has built and installed allows it to become a country on the brink of developing a nuclear weapon in two months' time. The PM, as mentioned, also listed the original four demands:

 

1) A complete halt to uranium enrichment, including to low purity levels.

2) The removal of enriched uranium that has already been produced from Iran to a foreign country.

3) The removal of the infrastructure for the enrichment of uranium, including the closure of the facility in Qom.

4) Stopping the construction of the heavy water reactor Arak. The facility's used fuel rods can be used to produce plutonium, from which a nuclear bomb can also be made.

 

Netanyahu knows that at least one of these demands has already been rejected by the US. Secretary of State Kerry has said Iran should be allowed to enrich uranium to low purity levels – up to 5%. But Netanyahu is not deterred. He knows full well that a significant portion of the sanctions imposed on Iran were introduced through legislation in the US Congress and that repeating this demand in public will resonate among those American lawmakers who will not agree to lift the sanctions – even if Obama and Kerry wish to do so.

 

But Netanyahu did not stop there. He explained how the international community, meaning the five permanent members of the Security Council – should conduct itself during the negotiations with the Iranians. This is the PM's recipe for effective negotiations:

 

1) In the first stage, keep the sanctions in place while negotiating, and if it turns out that Iran is continuing to enrich uranium and installing new centrifuges – the West must impose additional sanctions. Netanyahu's goal: To make certain that the Iranians do not take advantage of the negotiation period to present the West with established facts. In this regard, Netanyahu coined a new phrase: "Distrust, dismantle and verify."

 

2) The second point in Netanyahu's recipe urges the West not to agree to any partial deal that would allow the Iranians to have the sanctions eased while achieving the status of a country on the brink of nuclear weapons capability.

 

3) Lift the sanctions only after Iran's nuclear program is completely dismantled. "Don't let up the pressure. Keep it up… When it comes to Iran, the greater the pressure, the greater the chance," Netanyahu said, Then he put Israel's main card on the table: The threat of a solo Israeli strike in the event that the West is unable to dismantle Iran's military nuclear program.

 

Netanyahu knows this threat of a go-it-alone Israeli attack will be taken more seriously because it came a day after his conversation with Obama at the White House. During the meeting it was stated clearly that Israel and the US are coordinated on Iran and that Israel has a right to defend itself, on its own.

 

The fact that the threat was reiterated just a day after the meeting, coupled with Obama's statement that the military option was still on the table as far as the US is concerned, served as a stern warning to Tehran.

 

However, Netanyahu did speak of "nuclear weapons" in Iran's hands, not only of the ability to obtain such weapons. This may be an indication that he has moved his red line to match it to Obama's.

 

In order to give the threat of an Israel strike more credibility, Netanyahu told a story about how his grandfather was the victim of an attack by anti-Semites in Eastern Europe and spoke of his pledge that this would not happen to Israel.

 

This threat was certainly heard, not only in Europe, which is trying to recover from the financial crisis and fears an increase in oil prices, but also in China and Russia. Netanyahu made it clear that if Iran's nuclear program is not halted, Israel will not be the only country in danger. A nuclear Iran will mainly threaten the Arab Gulf states, which supply energy to eastern Asia and Europe.

 

Netanyahu also addressed the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as a gesture to the connection Obama made between the nuclear issue and peace negotiations. The PM's message was that Israel wants to have good relations with the rest of the Mideast's countries, not because it fears Iranian nukes, but because it wants peace and security for its citizens. Then he took a jab at Abbas and said the Palestinians still refuse to recognize the Jewish state or accept Israel's security-related demands.

 

Seeing that Netanyahu also had to please his constituency and political base at home, he quoted a verse from Prophets which could be interpreted as an expression of support for the settlement enterprise.

 

The PM's speech at the UN was masterful, and Netanyahu proved once again that he is an expert in public diplomacy and knows how to make the most of a situation even when the timing and atmosphere are not ideal.

 

Since the speech was directed mainly at decision-makers, the real test of its effectiveness will be on October 15 in Geneva, when Iran will submit its proposal to the superpowers for an end to the nuclear crisis.

 

 

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