Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged the international community not to be deceived by the moderate tone of the new Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, calling him a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, as intent as his bellicose predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on developing a nuclear bomb.
In an address to the UN General Assembly that was largely aimed at undoing the gains in international opinion Mr Rouhani made last week with his own UN speech, which was followed by a phone call with US President Barack Obama, Mr Netanyahu called for keeping up and perhaps intensifying sanctions against Iran and likened the Iranian regime and what he believes are its nuclear aspirations to the Nazi regime’s threat to Europe in the 1930s.
He said that Israel would act alone militarily to stop an Iranian bomb if necessary and insisted that Iran not be allowed to keep any enriched uranium in any diplomatic deal.
“When it comes to nuclear weapons the only difference between the two is that Ahmadinejad is a wolf in wolf’s clothing, while Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community,” he said.
The Israeli leader seemed impatient with those anxious to explore if Mr Rouhani’s tenure ushers in a new period of hope, as the Iranian president himself took pains to signal.
“I wish I could believe Rouhani but I don’t because facts are stubborn things. Iran’s savage record flatly contradicts Rouhani’s soothing rhetoric.“
He said during Mr Rouhani’s tenure as Iranian national security adviser, Iran had perpetrated terrorist acts including the bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires.
“Are we to believe Rouhani did not know of these attacks. Of course he did,” the Israeli Prime Minister said.
Mr Netanyahu said Mr Rouhani believes he can get sanctions lifted while still advancing towards a bomb by ”smiling a lot, paying lip service to peace, democracy and tolerance“, offering “meaningless concessions” and “ensuring Iran maintains sufficient nuclear material and infrastructure to race to the bomb at a time of its choosing”.
Mr Netanyahu said those doubting his warning had failed to learn the lessons from the appeasement of the Nazi regime in the 1930s.
“The last century taught us that when a radical regime with global ambitions gets awesome power its appetite for aggression knows no bounds. The world may have forgotten this lesson. The Jewish people have not.“
He said any diplomatic solution would require Iran to cease all uranium enrichment, remove from Iran all stockpiles of enriched uranium, dismantle the infrastructure for nuclear breakout capability and stop all work at a heavy water facility aimed at production of plutonium.
“The international community has Iran on the ropes. If it wants to knock out Iran’s programme peacefully don’t let up the pressure, keep it up.”
Mr Rouhani told the General Assembly last week that “nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran’s security and defence doctrine and contradict our fundamental religious and ethical convictions“.
He offered immediate negotiations to remove “reasonable concerns” about Iran’s nuclear programme, saying that in return Iran wanted recognition by the international community of its right to enrich uranium.
In an interview with CNN, he appeared to distance himself from Mr Ahmadinejad’s pattern of Holocaust denial, saying about the Nazis: “Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews we condemn,” while adding, however, that it was up to historians to determine the scale of what happened.
Mr Obama said the US is ready to test Mr Rouhani’s overtures but would insist on “the highest level of verification” of Iran curbing its nuclear programme before providing what he termed “sanctions relief”.
Even as Mr Netanyahu called for a “credible military threat” to pressure Iran, Mr Obama made clear the US is open to using military force if diplomacy fails.
In remarks to Iranian television before Mr Netanyahu’s speech, Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif accused Mr Netanyahu of lying to the world about Iran.
“We have seen nothing from Netanyahu but lies and actions to deceive and scare and international public opinion will not let these lies go unanswered. For 22 years the Zionist regime has been lying by repeating endlessly that Iran will have the bomb in six months. After all these years the world must understand the reality of these lies and not allow them to be repeated.”