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In UN speech, Netanyahu threatens Iran with ‘credible nuclear threat’

A senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told JNS that Netanyahu meant to say "credible military threat" and that he stands by the original text of the speech.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 22, 2023. Credit: United Nations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 22, 2023. Credit: United Nations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to threaten Tehran with nuclear weapons in his Sept. 22 address at the U.N. General Assembly.

“Iran must face a credible, nuclear threat. As long as I am prime minister of Israel, I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said on Friday morning in New York City.

A senior adviser to the prime minister told JNS that the original text of the speech called for “a credible military threat” against Iran’s nuclear program.

“It was misread as a credible nuclear threat,” the adviser told JNS. “The prime minister stands by the original text of the speech.”

‘A new Middle East’

In his remarks, Netanyahu said that the “tyrants of Tehran” have been nothing but a curse since he last addressed the UNGA in 2018. But the Islamic Republic has also been an unintentional blessing.

“The common threat of Iran has brought Israel and many Arab states closer than ever before, in a friendship that I have not seen in my lifetime,” he said.

Netanyahu described the biblical story of Moses separating the Israelites between two mountains, with Mount Gerizim associated with blessings and Mount Ebal with curses. He held up a map of the Middle East and a red pen and noted that he had demonstrated the Iranian threat to the region using the same props in 2018.

That curse had become a blessing, as Israel has normalized agreements with much of the Arab world, creating “a new Middle East,” he said.

Netanyahu noted that the “so-called experts” had been pessimistic about normalization between Israel and the Arab world.

“They were based on one false idea—that unless we first concluded a peace agreement with the Palestinians, no other Arab state would normalize its relations with Israel,” he said.

Netanyahu UNGA red marker
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 22, 2023. Credit: UNGA/screenshot.

“I have long sought to make peace with the Palestinians, but I also believe that we must not give the Palestinians a veto over new peace treaties with Arab states. The Palestinians could greatly benefit from a broader peace,” he added. “They should be part of that process, but they should not have a veto over the process.”

Netanyahu added that the Abraham Accords will also make peace likelier with the Palestinians, who represent just 2% of the Arab world.

“They believe that the other 98% will remain in a warlike state with Israel, that larger mass, that larger Arab world [will] eventually choke, dissolve and destroy the Jewish state,” he said. “When the Palestinians see that most of the Arab world has reconciled itself to the Jewish state, they too will be more likely to abandon the fantasy of destroying Israel and finally embrace a path of genuine peace.”

He called the Abraham Accords “a pivot of history,” and said the whole world is reaping the benefits of the accords.

A looming peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia will have long-reaching implications, including encouraging other Arab nations to normalize relations with Israel, Netanyahu predicted.

“All these are tremendous blessings,” he said.

Israel can become a “bridge of prosperity” and can help create a “new Middle East,” he added. “Peace can only be achieved if it’s based on truth,” and not on demonizing Israel.

‘Its within our reach’

As long as Netanyahu is in power, he said he will do all he can to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, he said, calling for “snapping back” sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

He called Iran “a fly in the ointment,” extending its tentacles of terrorism throughout the world. “They even tried to assassinate the secretary of state of the United States of America. They even tried to assassinate the national security advisor of the United States of America,” said Netanyahu, as the U.N. camera panned to empty Iranian seats in the room.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu works on his speech ahead of the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Sept. 22, 2023. Credit: Courtesy.

“This tells you all that you need to know about Iran’s murderous intentions and Iran’s murderous nature,” Netanyahu said.

The Israeli prime minister called the oppressed Iranian people the true partners in peace.

Netanyahu also discussed the “perils” of artificial intelligence. “We must do so quickly and we must do so together. We must ensure that that promise of the AI utopia doesn’t turn into an AI dystopia,” he said.

He also discussed the potential of AI, including in medical technologies. “I know it sounds like a John Lennon song,” he said. Still, he emphasized that AI is already changing the world and expressed confidence that it will help all of humanity. He noted that Israel is among the nations leading on this front.

World leaders must collectively ensure that artificial intelligence helps prevent instead of start wars, and helps people live longer, healthier, and more productive and peaceful lives, said Netanyahu, adding: “It’s within our reach.”

Earlier in the week, the Israeli prime minister met on the sidelines of the UNGA with U.S. President Joe Biden and António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, as well as the presidents or top leaders of Germany, Turkey, South Korea, Ukraine, Paraguay, Congo, Malawi, South Sudan and the Pacific nations of Palau, Nauru, Marshall Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

During meetings with Netanyahu, leaders of Congo and Paraguay announced their intentions to open, or reopen, embassies in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu also met in New York with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and with former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. In California, he met with and held a live online discussion with billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Earlier in the week, Jordanian and Iranian leaders criticized Israel repeatedly in their remarks at the UNGA, and U.N. police temporarily detained Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

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