WASHINGTON — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took his case on Iran directly to U.S. voters on Sunday, telling the American public in televised interviews that the White House must be willing to draw a “red line” on Tehran’s nuclear program, comparing Tehran’s nuclear program to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and reminding Americans of the devastating repercussions of failed intelligence.
His remarks were an impassioned election-season plea from a world leader who insists he doesn’t want to insert himself into U.S. politics and hasn’t endorsed either candidate. But visibly frustrated by U.S. policy under President Obama, the hawkish Israeli leader took advantage of the week’s focus on unrest across the Muslim world and America’s time-honored tradition of the Sunday television talk shows to appeal to Americans headed to the polls in less than two months.
Tehran claims its nuclear program is peaceful. Netanyahu said the United States would be foolish to believe that, using football metaphors and citing example of past terror attacks on U.S. soil to appeal to his American audience.
“It’s like Timothy McVeigh walking into a shop in Oklahoma City and saying, ‘I’d like to tend my garden. I’d like to buy some fertilizer.’ … Come on. We know that they’re working on a weapon,” Netanyahu said.
The past week, Netanyahu has called on Obama and other world leaders to state clearly at what point Iran would face a military attack. But Obama and his top aides, who repeatedly say all options remain on the table, have pointed to shared U.S.-Israeli intelligence that suggests Iran hasn’t decided yet whether to build a bomb despite pursing the technology and that there would be time for action beyond toughened sanctions in place.
Netanyahu disagrees, estimating that Iran is about six months away from having most of the enriched uranium it needs and warning that letting them reach the “goal line” would have disastrous consequences.
Obama’s Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, has said he is willing to take a tougher stance than Obama against Iran, although his campaign has declined to provide specifics. He has also aligned himself personally with Netanyahu, casting the Israeli leader as a longtime friend.
Meanwhile, Obama is reported to have a strained relationship with Netanyahu, chastising Israel for continuing to build housing settlements in areas disputed with the Palestinians.
America’s ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, responded Sunday by saying there is “no daylight” between the United States and Israel, and saying Obama “will do what it takes” to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. But, she said, “we are not at that stage yet.” “Our bottom line — if you want to call it a red line — the president’s bottom line has been that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon, and we will take no option off the table to ensure that it does not acquire a nuclear weapon, including military,” Rice later said.
But Netanyahu has said that’s not enough and employed historical examples known to most Americans to make his case: President John F. Kennedy’s demand that the Soviets remove its missiles sites in Cuba “maybe purchased decades of peace,” Netanyahu said. And absent a similar red line, then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein faced a U.S. attack in 1991 after invading Kuwait.
“Maybe that war could have been avoided,” Netanyahu said.