Tensions were high at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York Thursday afternoon, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued to warn attendees about the dangers a nuclear Iran poses to the stability of the region and to his country.
Coincidentally Netanyahu spoke on the heels of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who used his speech to request that Palestine be given a more active role within the General Assembly. The close proximity of the addresses created a sense of dueling speeches as both leaders attempt to navigate roiling tensions in the Middle East.
After Abbas’ depiction of Israelis as “racist colonizers,” Netanyahu opened his remarks with the promise that the “Jewish state will live forever.” He reminded fellow world leaders of the gamut of Israel’s contributions to civilization, citing everything from technological advancements to the promotion of democratic ideals.
However, the crux of Netanyahu’s address focused on the problem of Iranian nuclear armament. He characterized this as a “great battle between the modern and the medieval.” In his opinion, the situation will not be diffused by UN sanctions; it will depend on the UN or the National Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) drawing a “clear red line.”
Netanyahu attempted to silence critics who advocate for Cold War-style deterrence by pointing out that a secular Marxist did not have the same “hatred or lust for violence” as current extremists exhibit.
Furthermore, Netanyahu levied charges that a nuclear Iran is no different than a nuclear Al Qaeda.
“The failure to place red lines invites aggression,” Netanyahu said in an effort to place responsibility on each UN member nation.
Although Netanyahu commended the United States’ role in placing tougher sanctions on Iran, he said he expects the U.S. to handle the treat of a nuclear Iran as aggressively as the Straight of Hormuz crisis.
Netanyahu promised that Iran would complete uranium enrichment by next spring, so action by Israel and its allies must come immediately.
The speech undoubtedly placed further pressure on President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to create a definitive course of action to curb further nuclear development in Iran. Clinton will meet with the world leader this evening, but unfortunately, President Obama has refused bilateral meetings with any foreign heads – including Netanyahu – during their trips to New York for the international meeting. After receiving widespread criticism, Obama has relented to a telephone call with Netanyahu on Friday.
Given the sense of urgency in the Israeli Prime Minister’s speech, it would behoove President Obama – who is campaigning today in Virginia – to prioritize a face-to-face meeting with Netanyahu. President Obama must reassert his commitment to stand with Israel as it “stands with the forces of modernity.”
The campaign trail will live to see another day, but the close relationship between the United States and Israel may not.