WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama told the United Nations that "containment" of a nuclear Iran is not an option and it would pose an existential threat to Israel.
"Make no mistake, a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained," Obama said in his address to the General Assembly in New York on Tuesday morning. "It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations and the stability of the global economy. It risks triggering a nuclear arms race in the region and the unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty. That is why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable. And that is why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."
Obama has explicitly rejected containment of a nuclear Iran for months, but attaching its prospect to an existential threat to Israel is the starkest warning he has made and reflects increased anxiety in Israel about suspicions that Iran is accelerating a nuclear weapons program.
Much of Obama’s speech was devoted to promoting civil society in the Muslim world, in the context of the riots that ensued after the anti-Muslim film "Innocence of Muslims" was posted on YouTube.
In that context, Obama said he understood Muslim sensitivities about the debasement of Muhammad but added that to be credible, those taking affront also should take affront at similar attacks on other religions.
"The future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam," he said. "Yet to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed or the Holocaust is denied. Let us condemn incitement against Sufi Muslims and Shiite pilgrims."
In his only reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Obama appeared to place the burden on the Palestinians in pressing for a return to talks, mentioning the refusal by some to accept Israel’s right to exist, but not explicitly mentioning Israel’s settlement policies.
"Among Israelis and Palestinians, the future must not belong to those who turn their backs on the prospect of peace," he said. "Let us leave behind those who thrive on conflict and those who reject the right of Israel to exist. The road is hard but the destination is clear — a secure Jewish state of Israel and an independent, prosperous Palestine. Understanding that such a peace must come through a just agreement between the parties, America will walk alongside all who are prepared to make that journey."