Washington, March 5 – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared on Monday he would never allow his people to live under the constant threat of annihilation from a nuclear-armed Iran.
Addressing the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Netanyahu said Israel had waited patiently for the international community to deal with the problem – but so far it had failed.
“We’ve waited for diplomacy to work; we’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer,” Netanyahu said. “As Prime Minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.”
While appreciating President Barack Obama’s pledge to prevent the Iranians from building a nuclear bomb, Netanyahu made it clear that the state of Israel reserved the right to act in its own defense at a time of its own choosing.
“It must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself against any threats,” he said.
Laying out a detailed and powerful case why Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, the Israeli leader said Tehran was the number one sponsor of state terrorism. Its leaders had dispatched suicide bombers all around the world. Its proxies had attacked civilians in many countries with bombs, missiles and rockets. But Iran would be far more dangerous if it ever acquired a nuclear capability.
“A nuclear-armed Iran would dramatically increase terrorism by giving terrorists a nuclear umbrella. The terrorism we see today would grow tenfold, if not more,” Netanyahu said.
Earlier, Netanyahu met Obama at the White House for what had been billed as a crucial meeting. (Read their comments to the media.) Obama has said he believes there is still a window for sanctions and diplomacy to work. The New York Times reported that Netanyahu told Obama Israel had not made a decision on striking Iran, but he expressed deep skepticism that international pressure would persuade Iran’s leaders to forsake the development of nuclear weapons.
Obama has come under fire from Republicans for being too soft on Iran and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, speaking to AIPAC before Netanyahu, said Congress would soon take up legislation to force a tougher response.
He said the United States should make it clear that if the Iranians enriched uranium to weapons grade, the United States would respond with “overwhelming military force.”
Three Republican presidential candidates – former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum – will address the conference on Tuesday, the day that 10 states hold presidential primaries and caucuses.
A poll commissioned by The Israel Project and released last week found that around three quarters of U.S. voters view Iran negatively while 87 percent see the Islamic Republic’s illegal nuclear weapons program as a threat to the United States.
Fifty-five percent go further, saying the nuclear program, which Iran is developing contrary to four United Nations resolutions, represents a “very big threat.” Voters also overwhelmingly see Iran itself as a threat to Israel (88%), the Iranian people (79%), the United States (79%), other Arab countries in the Middle East (78%), and Europe (76%).