PM: Israel not planning war with Iran
Israel is not planning any war, and continued Iranian claims to the contrary reflect Iranian concerns stemming from growing talks about international sanctions, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said here Tuesday, Jerusalem Post reported.
Netanyahu, speaking at a press conference following his two-hour meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, was asked to respond to reports that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Israel was planning an imminent war.
Netanyahu said that these comments were a continuation of manipulations the Iranians were responsible for over the past few weeks, including threats and talk about war coming from Syria.
"I wouldn't be surprised if the things we are hearing are a result of Iran's feeling that there is an increase in talks about sanctions," he said.
Netanyahu said it was clear to him after his meeting with Putin that the Russian prime minister was interested in quiet and stability in the region, and does not want that balance to be broken.
"Russia understands the Iranian problem, and that is obvious even more so today," Netanyahu said. Netanyahu also met Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and characterized both talks as "excellent."
He was scheduled to leave Moscow Tuesday night and arrive back in Israel early Wednesday morning.
Netanyahu said that he told Putin what he told Medvedev on Monday, and what he told French President Nicolas Sarkozy and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week, that what was needed immediately was serious sanctions against Iran's energy sector.
"If this is done then it can, perhaps, have an influence [on the Iranians]," Netanyahu said. "I doubt that anything else would work."
Netanyahu said that the feeling in Moscow toward sanctions today was dramatically different than what it was some 10 months ago.
Regarding the possibility of talks with Syria, the premier said that these could only take place if the Syrians jettisoned their pre-conditions, and realized that they could not dictate the outcome of the talks before they began. The identity of the intermediary to mediate between the two parties, he said, was a secondary question.
Even as he was calling for "sanctions with teeth" against Iran throughout his two-day stay in Moscow, Netanyahu was consistently asked during various meetings what evidence Israel had that Iran intended its nuclear program for military, and not civilian purposes.
In one meeting Netanyahu said sarcastically that long-range ballistic missiles, which Iran had developed, were not needed for a nuclear program concerned only with medical isotopes. He also said the secret nuclear enrichment facility that was revealed in Qom was also an indication of weaponization.
The prime minister added that there is intelligence information shared by various countries that gives a clear indication of Iran's intention, and that were Washington to issue a new National Intelligence Estimate today, its conclusions about Iran's nuclear intent would be significantly different than the one issued in 2007, which said that there was no clear evidence of a Iranian nuclear weapons program.
There is no doubt that the purpose of Iran's nuclear program is weapons, Netanyahu said, even as Russian officials, as reported in a story on Netanyahu's visit Tuesday in theMoscow Times, continue to say "there is no direct evidence that Iran is pursuing an atomic bomb." The prime minister argued that while there was some value to sanctions against Iranian banks and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the only sanctions that might work are aggressive sanctions against Iran's energy sector, including a ban on refined petroleum imports.
Netanyahu said that sanctions without teeth would have no effect.
Asked about China's declared opposition to sanctions, and whether Israel was involved in negotiations with Beijing, he said that Israel has a dialogue with China, but that the heavy lifting on this matter is being done by other countries.
Netanyahu dismissed the notion that the sanctions would be slow to work, saying if they were imposed on the energy sector they could have an immediate effect, and the sooner they were imposed the more difficult it would be for the Iranians to bypass them.
Netanyahu warned that a nuclear Iran would lead to a regional arms race that would turn the Middle East into a "nuclear powder keg." At a time when steps are being taken to look for a peaceful solution in the region, the last thing that was needed was a Middle East where all the countries were seeking nuclear weapons, he said, adding that an atomic Iran would likely lead to a nuclear Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Asked in one meeting about the Israeli domestic political scene, Netanyahu said that regarding the diplomatic process with the Palestinians there was a wide consensus, from Left to Right - with the exception of the extremes on each side - regarding the following points:
• The need to reach an agreement with the Palestinians.
• The willingness to take difficult steps to reach an agreement.
• An understanding that there is no partner on the other side able to take the steps that would make an agreement possible - such as recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and guarantees that further territory vacated by Israel would not turn into a terrorist base, as was the case following Israel's withdrawals from Gaza and southern Lebanon.
Stressing that Russia is 1,000 times bigger than Israel, Netanyahu said Israel had to ensure that arms could not be smuggled into a future Palestinian state as they are currently being smuggled into Lebanon from Syria, and into Gaza via the Sudan and Egypt. He said that the only way to do this was to have an Israeli presence on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state.
If Israel was the size of Russia, Netanyahu said, he might have a different perspective, but stated that even given its size, Russia was still very jealous of its territorial integrity.
Netanyahu said an agreement, even an international agreement like UN Security Council resolution 1701, would not do the job. Using Lebanon as an example, he said that Hizbullah had some 15,000 missiles before the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and now they have 60,000 to 70,000 missiles.