June 22, 2009

David Gregory seems a little too eager to grab himself a headline as he badgers Benjamin Netanyahu over whether Israel will take unilateral action against Iran if they continue with their nuclear ambitions. Netanyahu doesn't bite of course, but just what does David Gregory think he's going to achieve with this line of questioning?

GREGORY: Let me ask you about the nature of the Iranian threat. Mohamed ElBaradei, who, as you know, runs the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in an interview with the BBC on Wednesday the following: "The ultimate aim of Iran," he said, "as I understand it, is they want to be recognized as a major power in the Middle East. [Increasing their nuclear capability] is to them the road to get that recognition, to get that power and prestige. It is also an insurance policy against what they have heard in the past about regime change." My question, Prime Minister, what does all that's happening on the streets of Iran do, in your estimation, to the nature of the threat from Iran? Is this a game changer in some way?

NETANYAHU: First of all, I, I don't subscribe to the view that Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons is a status symbol. It's not.These are people who are sending thousands and thousands of missiles to their terrorist proxies Hezbollah and Hamas with the specific instruction to bomb civilians in Israel. They're supporting terrorists in the world. This is not a status symbol. To have such a regime acquire nuclear weapons is to risk the fact that they might give it to terrorists or give terrorists a nuclear umbrella. That is a departure in the security of the Middle East and the world, certainly in the security of my country, and so I wouldn't treat the subject so lightly. Would a regime change be a game changer? A policy change would be a game changer.


NETANYAHU: I suppose that goes along with--it's not just personnel that is, that is involved here.

GREGORY: But what--but we may not have regime change here.

NETANYAHU: It's policy.

GREGORY: You may not have regime change if--even if there's not, is everything that's happened on the street, does it make Iran more or less likely to engage with the West over its nuclear program?

NETANYAHU: I don't know. I think it's too early to say what'll transpire both in Iran and is--and on the international scene. As I said, I think something fundamental is taking place here. But I did speak to President Obama about the question of engagement before this happened, and he made it clear that engagement is not an end in itself, it's a means to an end. And the end has to be to prevent this regime from developing nuclear weapons capability, and he said he'd leave all options on the table. And I'd say if it was right before these demonstrations, well, it's doubly right now.

GREGORY: Prime Minister, there's always been debate about whether, when it comes to the threat of a nuclear Iran, whether there's a Washington clock and a Jerusalem clock. And let me show you a book by David Sanger of The New York Times that he wrote called "The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power." And in the course of his reporting for that book, he wrote this about Israel's plans: "Early in 2008, the Israeli government signaled that it might be preparing to take matters into its own hands." This is about Iran. "In a series of meetings, Israeli officials asked Washington for a new generation of powerful bunker-busters, far more capable of blowing up a deep underground plant than anything in Israel's arsenal of conventional weapons. They asked for refueling equipment that would allow their aircraft to reach Iran and return to Israel. And they asked for the right to fly over Iraq." My question, if there is not tangible progress toward defanging Iran as a potential nuclear power by the end of the year, do you, as a leader of Israel, go back to that planning that Israel had under way in 2008 against Iran?

NETANYAHU: I can't confirm those assertions. I can say that Israel shares with the United States and with many, many countries--let me tell you, David, I think we shared with just about all the governments in the Middle East, I've talked to many of the leading European heads of governments and many others; we all don't want to see this regime acquire nuclear weapons, this regime that supports terrorists and calls for the annihilation of Israel and for the domination of the Middle East and beyond. I think this would be something that would endanger the peace of the world, not just the--my own country's security and the stability of the Middle East. It would spawn, for one thing, a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Everybody understands that. So the Middle East could become a nuclear tinderbox.

GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

NETANYAHU: And that is something that is very--a very, very grave development.

GREGORY: And there...

NETANYAHU: I think stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons capability is not merely an interest of Israel. As I think the current, recent events--the current events now demonstrate, this is something of deep interest for all people who want peace and seek peace throughout the world.

GREGORY: If the international community proves unable to stop Iran, is it your view that Israel will have to?

NETANYAHU: It's my view that there's an American commitment to make sure that that doesn't happen, and I think I'd leave it at that.

GREGORY: Right. But there is a precedent here. Israel, in 1981, took out a nuclear reactor in Iraq. Israel, in 2007, took out a nuclear reactor in Syria. There is precedent and a proclivity for Israel to take unilateral action if it deems it necessary for its security. That could be the case with regard to Iran, no?

NETANYAHU: Well, I don't think I have to add to anything that I've said. We're--the Jewish people have been one of the oldest nations in the world. We've been around for 3500 years. We are threatened as no other people has been threatened. We've suffered pogroms, exiles, massacres and the greatest massacre of them all, the Holocaust. So obviously, Israel always reserves the right to defend itself.

GREGORY: You have said--you said it to Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic magazine, talking about Iran, that it was a messianic and apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs. The Obama administration argues that for the past eight years under President Bush there has been a hard line, calling it part of the axis of evil, and where has that hard line gotten America? Only emboldening Iran over that period of time. Is your hard line--is the U.S. hard line over the past eight years the wrong strategy to get Iran to change its behavior?

NETANYAHU: I think that the, the president spoke to me quite explicitly about the great threat that Iran's development of nuclear weapons capability poses to the United States. I saw, in fact, a continuity, in that sense, of an assessment of the threat. But of course, as you say, the clock is ticking. The Iranian nuclear program is advancing. And so the, the problem that now faces the entire world is to, is to ask themselves a simple question: Can we allow this brutal regime that sees no inhibitions in how it treats its own citizens and its purported enemies abroad, can we allow such a regime to acquire nuclear weapons? And the answer that we hear from far and wide is no.

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