NEW YORK — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu harshly condemned the Iran nuclear deal in a speech at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, warning that the accord will pave the way for Iran to obtain nuclear weapons if it is not scrapped or altered.
After praising Donald Trump’s address earlier in the day from the same podium, in which the US president called the Islamic Republic a “murderous” regime and the nuclear deal an “embarrassment,” Netanyahu said the 2015 accord strengthened Iran’s nuclear program and posed a grave threat to the entire world.
“Imagine the danger of hundreds of nuclear weapons in the hands of a vast Iranian Islamist empire, with the missiles to deliver them anywhere on earth,” he said.
Netanyahu singled out for criticism the deal’s so-called sunset clause, which will lift limitations on Iran’s nuclear program when the accord expires in over a decade.
“When that sunset comes, a dark shadow will be cast over the entire Middle East and the world, because Iran will then be free to enrich uranium on an industrial scale, placing it on the threshold of a massive arsenal of nuclear weapons,” he said, adding that the failure of past agreements meant to limit North Korea’s nuclear program showed that the Iran pact “will turn out exactly the same way.”
In light of the deal’s flaws, the prime minister said, the nuclear accord must be ripped up or radically amended.
“Change it or cancel it,” he said. “Fix it or nix it.”
“Nixing the deal means restoring massive pressure on Iran, including crippling sanctions, until Iran fully dismantles its nuclear weapons capability,” he added. “Fixing the deal requires many things, among them inspecting military and any other site that is suspect, and penalizing Iran for every violation. But above all, fixing the deal means getting rid of the sunset clause.”
Netanyahu also warned of Iran’s ballistic missile development and growing military expansion in the Middle East, and said that instead of curbing its regional ambitions, the nuclear deal had only strengthened them.
“Many supporters of the nuclear deal naively believed that it would moderate Iran. It would make it a responsible member, so they said, of the international community,” he said. “I warned that when the sanctions on Iran would be removed, Iran would behave like a hungry tiger unleashed, not joining the community of nations, but devouring nations, one after the other. And that’s precisely what Iran is doing today.”
Contrasting his strong criticism of the Tehran regime, Netanyahu addressed the Iranian people directly, saying in Persian, “You are our friends.”
He also turned directly to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, saying, “The light of Israel will never be extinguished.”
“Those who threaten us with annihilation put themselves in mortal peril. Israel will defend itself with the full force of our arms and the full power of our convictions,” he said. “We will act to prevent Iran from establishing permanent military bases in Syria for its air, sea and ground forces. We will act to prevent Iran from producing deadly weapons in Syria or in Lebanon for use against us. And we will act to prevent Iran from opening new terror fronts against Israel along our northern border.
“As long as Iran’s regime seeks the destruction of Israel, Iran will face no fiercer enemy than Israel,” he said.
In light of Iran’s growing threat to regional stability, Netanyahu said Israel was prepared to establish friendlier ties with the Arab world, alluding to his insistence on packaging any agreement with the Palestinians inside a larger regional initiative.
“Israel is committed to achieving peace with all our Arab neighbors, including the Palestinians,” said Netanyahu, in his only reference to the Palestinians.
Penguins know right from wrong
Earlier in his speech, Netanyahu hailed the improvement of Israel’s image in the world, calling Israel’s burgeoning diplomatic status a “great revolution.”
As proof of Israel’s increased diplomatic importance, Netanyahu said that Israeli intelligence agencies have helped thwart “dozens of major terror attacks” in recent years around the world, and also pointed to his meetings over the past year with leaders from around the world.
On a lighter note, Netanyahu said that while he had visited six continents, he has yet to make it to Antartica, although he joked he had heard there are strong Israel supporters there.
“I haven’t yet visited Antarctica, but one day I want to go there too, because I’ve heard that penguins are also enthusiastic supporters of Israel. You laugh, but penguins have no difficulty recognizing that some things are black and white, are right and wrong,” he said.
Netanyahu also accused the UN of “absurdities,” singling out UNESCO’s recognition of the Tomb of Patriarchs in the West Bank city of Hebron earlier this year as a Palestinian heritage site.
“That’s worse than fake news. That’s fake history,” he said.
Despite the UN’s past as the “epicenter of anti-Semitism,” Netanyahu said, “there are signs of positive change even at the United Nations,” praising US President Donald Trump and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley effusively “for speaking the truth about Israel.”
Netanyahu thanked Trump, with whom he posed for a photo in the halls of the UN ahead of his speech, for his support of Israel, and said the strength of the Jewish state’s ties with the US was unprecedented.
“I appreciate President Trump’s leadership, his commitment to stand by Israel’s side, his commitment to advance a peaceful future for all. Together we can seize the opportunities for peace and together we can confront the great dangers of Iran,” he said.
“The remarkable alliance between the United States and Israel has never been stronger, never been deeper. Israel is deeply grateful for the support of the Trump administration, the American Congress and the American people,” he added.
Netanyahu ended his speech by wishing everyone a “shanah tovah” — happy new year in Hebrew — ahead of Rosh Hashanah, which begins Wednesday evening.
In his speech earlier in the day, Trump excoriated Iran, saying it speaks openly of “mass murder, death to America and the destruction of Israel,” while exporting “violence, bloodshed and chaos” throughout the Middle East by funding terror groups, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, that threaten Israel and Arab countries.
Speaking of the 2015 nuclear deal, which placed limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief and which Trump said Monday that the US may scrap, he continued, “We cannot abide by an agreement if it it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program.
“The Iran deal is one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the US has ever entered into to. Frankly, that deal was an embarrassment to the US,” he said, echoing his previous criticism of the deal.
Trump issued even more forceful language toward North Korea, telling the murmuring crowd that “it is far past time for the nations of the world to confront” its leader, Kim Jong Un, and saying that Kim’s “reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons” posed a threat to “the entire world with an unthinkable loss of human life.
He issued a pointed, personal warning to Kim.
“We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime,” he said. “It is time for North Korea to realize that denuclearization is its only acceptable future.”