In UN speech, Netanyahu keeps focus on Iran


(JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking to the U.N. General Assembly, urged the international community to “check your enthusiasm at the door” regarding the recently finalized agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.

On Thursday, Netanyahu also criticized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for saying in his General Assembly speech the previous day that Israel is not complying with accords. The Israeli leader repeated his willingness to enter negotiations with the Palestinian Authority without preconditions.

Netanyahu used most of his 40-minute speech to again warn the world of what he called the dangers of the nuclear deal reached in July between Iran and six world powers, including the United States. As he has throughout the negotiations leading to the deal and afterward, Netanyahu decried the agreement for giving Iran a flow of cash to fund terrorist groups. He also protested the 10- and 15-year expiration dates for some of the deal’s key provisions.

He called Iran a “rapacious tiger,” and at one point brandished a book by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, which he called a “400-page screed,” about Iran’s plans to destroy Israel.

“Does anyone seriously believe that flooding a radical theocracy with weapons and cash will curb its appetite for aggression?” Netanyahu asked. “Do any of you really believe that a theocratic Iran with sharp claws and sharp fangs will be more likely to change its stripes?”

Netanyahu castigated world leaders for not condemning Iranian statements threatening to destroy Israel. After admonishing the audience for this “deafening silence,” Netanyahu remained silent for a prolonged period, glaring at the crowd.

“Perhaps you can now understand why Israel is not joining in celebrating this deal,” he said. “If Iran were working to destroy your countries, perhaps you would be less enthusiastic about this deal.”

Netanyahu pushed supporters of the accord to remain vigilant about inspecting Iran’s nuclear facilities and to punish Iran should it violate its commitments. He also said that Israel would use any means necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and would defend itself if threatened.

“Israel will not allow Iran to break in, sneak in or to walk into the nuclear weapons club,” he said. “I know preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons remains the official policy of the international community, but no one should question Israel’s determination to defend itself against those who seek our destruction.”

Netanyahu spent the beginning and end of the speech criticizing the United Nations for its criticisms of Israel. But Netanyahu praised the United States, and President Barack Obama, for supporting Israel. Netanyahu and Obama have had an often acrimonious relationship due to differences on Iran and the peace process, and sparred earlier this year over a speech that Netanyahu gave before Congress criticizing the impending nuclear deal. But Netanyahu called the U.S.-Israel relationship “unshakable.”

Near the end of the address, Netanyahu addressed Abbas, who blamed Israel for undermining the two-state solution through settlement expansion and thus the P.A. is therefore no longer bound by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Abbas also accused Israel of changing the status quo on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and preventing Muslims from praying there.

Netanyahu, in turn, blamed Abbas for rejecting Israeli peace offers and again called on him to enter negotiations without preconditions. Netanyahu also said that Israel is committed to maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount and protecting freedom of religion.

“Israel stands out as a towering beacon of enlightenment and tolerance,” he said. “Far from endangering the holy sites, it is Israel that ensures their safety.”

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