Israel must ask itself what will happen if the U.S. fails to take action to stop Iran's nuclear program, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israel Hayom in a special Rosh Hashanah interview this week.
In the interview, to be published in full on Sunday, Netanyahu addressed recent assessments by top defense officials, who suggested that there is still time before action against Iran becomes necessary. "I hear all those people who say that we should wait until the very last minute. But what if the U.S. doesn't intervene? That is a question we have to ask," he said.
Netanyahu also dismissed allegations that his insistence on red lines, beyond which the U.S. would commit to taking military action against Iran, was impacting the presidential race currently underway in the U.S., saying, "This is nonsense because the issue that is guiding me is not the U.S. elections, but the centrifuges in Iran, and what can I do if the centrifuges in Iran are inconsiderate of the U.S. political timetable? If the Iranians were to hit the 'pause' button and halt their uranium enrichment and bomb preparation until after the elections, I would be able to wait."
In addition, the prime minister explained that the gaps between Washington's and Jerusalem's stances on the Iranian issue revolve "not on a question of dates, but rather on a question of process." Referring to homefront preparedness, Netanyahu said, "You can protect the country from missiles, in one way or another. But there is no protection against atomic bombs. The only way to protect against this is to prevent the creation of such a reality by the enemy, and of course, make it clear to anyone who would ever consider attacking Israel with weapons of mass destruction - do it at your own peril."
Meanwhile, at an event in honor of the New Jewish Year this week, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that any discussion about Iran should be conducted behind closed doors. His comments echoed statements made a day earlier by Defense Minister Ehud Barak who criticized Netanyahu's call for the U.S. to set "red lines" on Iran.
It doesn't matter who holds what opinion: whether you believe we should press on with sanctions, or that sanctions are ineffective; whether you think that we should progress to the next level or not — all the these dialogues and discussions should not be conducted in public and in the media," Lieberman said. "There are enough forums and channels through which information can be exchanged; there is no need for explanations and public debates."
The foreign minister added that "our relations with the U.S. are founded on shared values and a lot of friendship, both diplomatically and personally."
During a tour of southern Israel on Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro also commented on reportedly strained relations between the two countries. "There is no crisis," he said, adding that both countries have the "closest relations ever" in terms of security and strategic cooperation, and in their common goal of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Following a recent flurry of criticism voiced against Netanyahu by both Lieberman and Barak, as well as by the American publications The New York Times and The New Yorker, a source close to the prime minister said on Thursday that "Netanyahu's sharp comments about Iran - even if they are not pleasant and seem direct - are necessary to create international pressure against Iran's nuclear program."
According to the source, "the prime minister is prepared to take the criticism. Experience shows that if Netanyahu would not have dared voice sharp remarks on Iran in public from time to time, there would not be this unprecedented international pressure on the Iranians."
The source added that the prime minister believes setting clear red lines on Iran's nuclear armament "is a vital interest to the State of Israel, and so he will continue to demand in a clear voice that the international community set this red line."
Earlier Thursday, the prime minister held a gathering to mark the Jewish new year together with Defense Minister Barak, Israel Defense Forces Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and members of the General Staff Forum. During the gathering, Netanyahu said, "We live in an explosive and stormy region, and the explosions and storms are increasing. The strength of the IDF has helped ensure that we are an island of stability amidst the storms. From time to time, actions have been necessary and they were carried out with great success. Israeli citizens must know what I know — that we can rely on the IDF. There are those who know how to do the work. I wish the soldiers, commanders and their families a happy, sweet and safe Rosh Hashanah."
The full interview with the prime minister will be published on Sunday. Sign up today for our free daily newsletter and get it directly to your inbox.