At UN, Israeli PM Bennett says Iran has crossed nuclear 'all red lines'

NEW YORK (REUTERS) – Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Monday (Sept 27) that Iran had crossed “all red lines” in its nuclear programme and vowed that Israel would not allow Teheran to acquire a nuclear weapon.

In his first speech before the United Nations General Assembly, Mr Bennett said Iran sought to dominate the Middle East under a “nuclear umbrella” and urged a more concerted international effort to halt Iran’s nuclear activities.

But he also hinted at the potential for Israel to act on its own against Iran, something it has repeatedly threatened in the past.

“Iran’s nuclear programme has hit a watershed moment, and so has our tolerance. Words do not stop centrifuges from spinning,” Mr Bennett said. “Israel will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

Mr Bennett, a far-right politician who ended Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year run as prime minister in June, wants US President Joe Biden to harden his stance against Iran, Israel’s regional arch-foe.

He opposes the new US administration’s efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that Mr Biden’s White House predecessor, Mr Donald Trump, abandoned in 2018.

Indirect US-Iran talks in Vienna have stalled as Washington awaits the next move by Iran’s new hardline president Ebrahim Raisi.

Mr Bennett struck a less combative tone before the United Nations than Netanyahu, who often relied on props and visual aids to dramatise his accusations against Iran, an approach that critics derided as political stunts.

But Mr Bennett has been just as adamant as Netanyahu was in pledging to do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran, which Israel views as an existential threat, from building a nuclear weapon. Iran consistently denies it is seeking a bomb.

“Iran’s nuclear weapons programme is at a critical point. All red lines have been crossed, inspections ignored,” Mr Bennett said. “They’re getting away with it.”

He called for international action. “If we put our heads to it, if we’re serious about stopping it, if we use our resourcefulness, we can prevail,” Mr Bennett said. 

Mr Bennett also took aim at Mr Raisi, accusing him of serious human rights abuses against his own people over the years.

Mr Raisi is under targeted US sanctions.   

Mr Bennett made not a single direct mention of the Palestinians in his remarks, except to accuse Iran of backing anti-Israel militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. 

Mr Bennett, who sits atop an ideologically diverse coalition, opposes Palestinian statehood. 

Mr Biden, in his UN speech last week, declared renewed US support for a two-state solution, after Mr Trump distanced himself from that longstanding tenet of US policy, but said Israel and the Palestinians were a long way from achieving it. 

Mr Biden’s aides are mindful that US pressure for a resumption of long-dormant peace talks or major Israeli concessions could destabilize the fragile Israeli coalition. 

Addressing the General Assembly via video link on Friday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of destroying the two-state solution with actions he said could lead Palestinians to demand equal rights within one binational state comprising Israel, the occupied West Bank and Gaza. 

Mr Bennett focused instead on what he touted as the benefits of Israel’s landmark normalisation agreements brokered by the Trump administration last year with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.

“More is to come,” he said. 

Israel has trumpeted its new diplomatic relations, especially with Gulf neighbours, as having helped forge a regional bulwark against their shared foe, Iran. 

Palestinian officials said they felt betrayed by their Arab brethren for reaching deals with Israel without first demanding progress toward the creation of a Palestinian state.

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