Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu draws a red line on Iran’s nuclear program

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told world leaders at the United Nations yesterday that a “red line” – or an ultimatum backed by military actions – must be set on Iran’s uranium enrichment program, arguing that diplomacy alone is not enough to stop Tehran from building a nuclear weapon. 

Israeli Prime Minister Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 27, 2012. SOURCE: UN Photo/J Carrier

Netanyahu accused Iran of manipulating diplomatic negotiations “as a means to buy time to advance its nuclear program.”

Read more: Obama warns Iran that time for diplomacy is running out

“There’s only one way to peacefully prevent Iran from getting atomic bombs and that’s by placing a clear red line on Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” Netanyahu said during his address at the U.N. General Assembly. “Red lines don’t lead to war; red lines prevent war.”

Although Netanyahu stopped short of declaring an all-out war against Iran, his remarks strongly suggested that military action is imminent – potentially in spring or summer of 2013 – unless Tehran agrees to dismantle its nuclear program.

(It’s worth noting that Israel is scheduled to hold elections in October 2013, but the Knesset – or legislature – can dissolve itself and order an early election with a simple majority vote.)

“We must face the truth.”

While Netanyahu applauded the international community’s decision to impose harsh sanctions, which have severely restricted Iran’s oil exports and crippled its economy, he claimed that they have failed to stop Iran from accelerating its uranium enrichment program, citing the International Atomic Energy Agency’s assessment that Iran has “doubled the number of centrifuges in its underground nuclear facility” over the past year.

Netanyahu also claimed that Iran has compiled enough low-enriched uranium to provide 70% of the materials needed to build a nuclear bomb.

Tehran, the Prime Minister said, is now working on amassing medium-enriched uranium – a task that he estimated would be finished by next spring or summer given Iran’s current enrichment rate.

After the second stage is completed, Iran will have 90% of the uranium it needs for a nuclear bomb, after which the third stage of creating highly-enriched uranium could be wrapped up within months. The final piece – creating a nuclear detonator or the bomb fuse – could be constructed in a small facility the size of a classroom within a year, Netanyahu said.

“The relevant question is not when Iran will get the bomb. The relevant question is at what stage can we no longer stop Iran from getting the bomb,” he said.

“This is the duty of every responsible leader who wants to preserve world peace.” 

Reiterating President Barack Obama’s comments that a nuclear-armed Iran cannot be “contained”, Netanyahu insisted that a “red line” must be drawn to prevent Iran from completing its second stage of uranium enrichment.

Netanyahu pointed out that the large Iranian industrial plants housing thousands of centrifuges required to enrich uranium are “visible” and “still vulnerable”, implying that there’s a limited window of opportunity between now and next spring to destroy those facilities through military strikes.

After that window of opportunity is over, Netanyahu warned that tracking down and destroying a nuclear detonator “in a small workshop in a country half the size of Europe” will be considerably more difficult and risky.

“The red line must be drawn on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program because these enrichment facilities are the only nuclear installations that we can definitely see and credibly target,” he said. “And I believe that faced with a clear red line, Iran will back down. And this will give more time for sanctions and diplomacy to convince Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons program altogether.”


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