Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used his United Nations address Tuesday to put President Obama on notice that Israel is prepared to attack Iran on its own.
The Israeli leader said Iran’s diplomatic overtures are not to be trusted and urged the world body to keep up the pressure on Iran to give up its nuclear program.
“I want there to be no confusion on this point: Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said at the opening session of the U.N. General Assembly. “If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone.”
The message was similar to the one he delivered in person to the White House and the U.S. Senate a day earlier, when Obama and Netanyahu discussed Obama’s decision to reach out to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Obama on Friday became the first U.S. leader to speak to the leader of Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Netanyahu said Monday he had been reassured by his talk with Obama, but the effort has highlighted differences between the Obama administration and Netanyahu’s government.
The Israeli leader on Tuesday called Rouhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” who’s trying to “pull the wool over the eyes of the international community.”
He offered no indication that he’s ready to give diplomacy with Iran a chance — a clear break with Obama.
“I wish I could believe Rouhani. But I don’t because facts are stubborn things,” Netanyahu said. “And the facts are that Iran’s savage record flatly contradicts Rouhani’s soothing rhetoric.”
The Obama administration insisted after the speech that the United States and Israel remain on the same page.
“We are in lock-step agreement that we are not going to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. “Nothing has changed about that.”
Netanyahu met with Obama and Vice President Biden for four hours Monday, as well as with Secretary of State John Kerry and senators from both parties. He reaffirmed the close ties between the two countries and thanked Obama for his support, a point he made again at the U.N.
“The only diplomatic solution that would work is one that fully dismantles Iran’s nuclear weapons program and prevents it from having one in the future,” Netanyahu said. “President Obama rightly said that Iran’s conciliatory words must be matched by transparent, verifiable and meaningful action.”
Still, his speech seemed calculated to seed doubts about Obama’s engagement with Rouhani.
The 30-minute address was peppered with references to Iranian-backed attacks or plots against American targets, starting with the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing that killed 299 American and French service members. Netanyahu also mentioned the 1996 Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 U.S. Air Force personnel at a time when Rouhani was Iran’s national security adviser.
“Rouhani promises ‘constructive engagement’ with other countries, yet two years ago, Iranian agents tried to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Washington, D.C. And just three weeks ago, an Iranian agent was arrested trying to collect information for possible attacks against the American Embassy in Tel Aviv,” Netanyahu said. “Some constructive engagement.”
He also demanded Iran be stripped of the “residual capability to enrich much uranium,” a stance that could scupper talks before they really start. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
The Israeli leader went on to demand that the U.N. maintain its sanctions on Iran until the country stops enriching uranium and dismantles its nuclear infrastructure. He said a nuclear-armed Iran would be as dangerous as “50 North Koreas” and that Rouhani is only coming back to the negotiating table because the sanctions are crippling his economy.
“The international community has Iran on the ropes,” he said. “If you want to knock out Iran’s nuclear weapons program peacefully, don’t let up the pressure.”
Netanyahu delivered the same message to the Senate Monday evening, where it was warmly received.
“He just said basically that he believes in the importance that there be costs if Iran continues its nuclear program,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told The Hill after the meeting. “What we’re doing now, he strongly thanked us for and said it’s having an impact and making it possible for us to negotiate.”
The Senate Banking Committee is expected to take up new sanctions legislation shortly. The House passed similar legislation by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in July.
This story was posted at 1:13 p.m. and updated at 7:40 p.m.