Act now over Iran’s nuclear threat, PM urges

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Israel’s prime minister warned world leaders they had until next summer at the latest to stop Iran building a nuclear bomb.

In his most detailed plea yet for action against Iran’s nuclear programme, Benjamin Netanyahu produced a diagram of a cartoon-like bomb before the United Nations General Assembly in New York, saying Iran had already completed the first stage of uranium enrichment.

Then he pulled out a red marker and drew a line across what he said was a threshold Iran was approaching and which Israel could not tolerate – the completion of the second stage and 90 per cent of the way to the uranium enrichment needed to make an atomic bomb.

“By next spring, at most by next summer, at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage,” he said. “From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb.”

Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran to be an existential threat, citing Iranian denials of the Holocaust, its calls for Israel’s destruction, its development of missiles capable of striking the Jewish state and its support for hostile Arab militant groups.

Yesterday he presented his case to the world saying a nuclear-armed Iran would be a danger to many other countries as well. Casting the battle as one between modernity and the “medieval forces of radical Islam”, Mr Netanyahu said deterrence would not work against Iran as it had with the Soviet Union.

“Deterrence worked with the Soviets, because every time the Soviets faced a choice between their ideology and their survival, they chose survival,” he said. But “militant jihadists behave very differently from secular Marxists. There were no Soviet suicide bombers. Yet Iran produces hordes of them.”

Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly argued that time is running out to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power and the threat of force must be seriously considered.

Israeli leaders have issued a series of warnings in recent weeks suggesting if Iran’s uranium enrichment programme continues it may soon stage a unilateral military strike.

This week Iranian leaders suggested they may strike Israeli pre-emptively if they felt threatened, stoking fears of a regional war.

US president Barack Obama has vowed to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power but has rejected Mr Netanyahu’s demands for setting an ultimatum past which the US would attack.

His administration has urgently sought to hold off Israeli military action, which would probably result in the US being pulled into a conflict and cause region-wide mayhem on the eve of American elections.

Netanyahu’s 2013 Israeli deadline could be interpreted as a type of concession, but Israeli officials insisted action was still needed immediately and that in his speech Mr Netanyahu was referring to the point of no return.

Mr Netanyahu appeared to be trying to soothe his differences with the White House when he thanked Mr Obama’s stance, adding that his own words were meant only to help achieve the common goal. And he thanked the US and other governments that had imposed sanctions which, he said, have hurt Iran’s economy and curbed its oil exports but had not changed Tehran’s intentions to develop the capacity to build nuclear weapons.

Iran’s deputy UN ambassador Eshagh Al Habib insisted the country’s nuclear programme was purely peaceful.