NEW YORK – In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described a "clear red line" for intervention concerning Iran's nuclear program.
"I believe that faced with a clear red line, Iran will back down. This will give more time for sanctions and diplomacy to convince Iran to dismantle its nuclear program," Netanyahu said.
The BBC cited an Israeli official as having said on Thursday that crossing that "line" — which has yet to be described further — would compel military intervention in Iran.
Talk of "red lines" has been a bone of contention lately between Israel and the United States, which refused Netanyahu's request to use the same language against Iran, the Associated Press reported.
Iran's leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the UNGA on Wednesday, accusing external powers of intimidating Iran over its nuclear program as an excuse for military intervention, while talking of the need for a new world "order."
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas preceded Netanyahu at the podium on Thursday, addressing the UNGA.
He called for an independent state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital and the 1967 borders, declaring that it was the right of the Palestinian people.
Abbas began his speech with a strongly worded criticism of Israel's policies, calling settlements a "racist settler colonization" of Palestinian land. He said, "We are facing relentless waves of attacks against our people, our mosques, churches and monasteries, our children, schools and houses."
He called the attacks an inherent byproduct of a "racist culture" fostered by the Israeli government, protected by discriminatory laws and by the security apparatus which excused the settlers' crimes.
Labeling the occupation of Jerusalem "ethnic cleansing," Abbas accused the Israeli government of trying to change the character of the city and preventing Palestinians from accessing its schools, hospitals and mosques. He also said Israel had continued its suffocating blockade of the Gaza Strip and continued raids and attacks.
Abbas said that Israel's overall policy seemed to be to undermine the Palestinian National Authority's existence and reject the two-state solution. "The Israeli government aims to continue its occupation of Jerusalem and its de facto annexation of large territories," he said.
The plans put forward by Israel would leave Palestinians in small enclaves surrounded by large Israeli settlements and blockades, Abbas said. "We categorically reject it because it will not bring about peace," he said. "Israel is promising the Palestinian people a new catastrophe, a new nakba."
Abbas stressed that the Palestinian Authority was committed to non-violence, and rejected terrorism. "We realize that ultimately the two peoples must co-exist, each in their respective state in the Holy Land," he said. "There is still a chance, maybe the last, to save the two state solution, to salvage peace."
Abbas also stated that the Palestinian people would continue to pursue full recognition at the UN, and called on the body to grant the Palestinian Authority full non-state membership. "In our endeavor, we do not seek to delegitimize an existing state, that is Israel. We are not attempting to delegitimize them, they are trying to delegitimize us."
After describing the devastating results of the Palestinian exodus of 1948, which was known as the Nakba, Abbas said, "We shall not allow a new nakba to happen." He stressed, "There is no homeland for us except Palestine... We shall not accept an alternative homeland or land."
Abbas concluded, "Our people are determined to continue peaceful, popular resistance... against the occupation, against settler occupation, for the sake of freedom, independence and peace."
Palestine was merely a footnote in Netanyahu's speech when he took the stage shortly after Abbas. He said that the Palestinian problem would not be solved by "libelous speeches" and "unilateral declarations of statehood."
Netanyahu's main focus in his speech was Iran's nuclear program, and he brought visual aids to illustrate his point on drawing clear red lines.
Netanyahu positioned the antagonism between Israel and Iran as a great battle between the modern and medieval. He described at length Israel's pursuit of the modern, and Iran's radical push towards the medieval.
He warned that the "medieval forces of radical Islam... are bent on world conquest, they want the destruction of America, they want to extinguish freedom, they want to end the modern world."
Painting a stark portrait of Iran's sponsorship of terrorism and the spread of radical Islam, Netanyahu asked, "I ask you, given this record of Iranian aggression without nuclear weapons, just imagine their aggression with nuclear weapons. Who among you would feel safe in the Middle East? Who would be safe in Europe? Who would be safe in America?"
Netanyahu warned that the threat of mutually assured destruction would not be a deterrent a nuclear Iran, but in fact an inducement. He also dismissed the "absurd notion" that a nuclear armed Iran would bring stability to the Middle East. He said, "We must face the truth: sanctions have not stopped Iran's nuclear program."
"At this late hour, there is only one way to prevent Iran from getting an atomic bomb. That is by placing a clear red line on the Iran nuclear weapons program. Red lines don't lead to war. Red lines prevent war," Netanyahu said, citing NATO's charter and US President John F. Kennedy's handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis as examples.
The red line that Netanyahu sought to draw was before Iran got to the second stage of uranium enrichment. He brought out a diagram to illustrate his point, saying it was vital to prevent Iran from amassing enough enriched uranium to fuel an atomic bomb. He said that the statistics he quoted were not guesswork, but based on public reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Netanyahu also dismissed the argument that intelligence agencies would know when Iran was close to completing a bomb, saying, "For two years, our intelligence agencies didn't know that Iran was building a huge nuclear enrichment plant under a mountain."
"The relevant question is not when Iran will get the bomb," he said. "The relevant question is: at what stage can we no longer stop Iran from getting the bomb?"
Netanyahu briefly mentioned Obama, saying that he appreciated the president's position. Relations between the two leaders have been at a low point due to tensions over Iran's nuclear program, with Netanyahu calling on Obama to issue ultimatums in increasingly aggressive tones, and with Obama refusing to do so.
"Israel is in discussion with the United States over this issue and I am confident that we can chart a road forward," Netanyahu said, perhaps to assuage concerns over the relationship between the two allies.
GlobalPost's correspondent in Israel, Noga Tarnopolsky, said Netanyahu's visual aid has provoked much discussion on social media in Jerusalem, as well. However, a cartoonist there, Ya'akov Kirschen, had harsh words to say about the reaction:
"That anyone is even talking about this cartoon is stupid. It is a sign of the idiocy of our media and of our own citizenry," said Kirschen, who is the author of the Jerusalem Post's "Dry Bones" cartoon strip.
"Democracies have taken a really interesting turn. When Obama speaks at the UN, Americans don't look at him and say, 'That’s the president of the United States, he's speaking on our behalf.'"
Kirschen continued, "There was a time in Israel when the prime minister spoke at the UN, and we were proud and interested in what he had to say."
But now, he lamented to Tarnopolsky, "Politics has become polluted. If you are left of center, you are supposed to laugh at people like Netanyahu even if he represents you ... People have become crazed into seeing politics as simply a war between two gangs, and you're either the right wing or the left wing gang and you don't think. It is a sickness in society."
Veering into Yiddish definitions, Kirschen said: "There is an old question about what is a schlemiel, a shlemazel and a shmendrick. When someone is sitting in a restaurant and a waiter comes along and spills some soup, the person who spills the soup is shemazel, the person who had the soup spilled on him is a shlemiel. But the person sitting at the next table who says, 'excuse me, what kind of soup is that?' is a shmendrick. And anybody who thinks that the subject is [at the] level of the drawing that the Prime Minister of Israel used to plead with the world that is ignoring us — is a schmendrick. That anyone could even comment on that!"
More from GlobalPost: In UN speech, Ahmadinejad calls for new world order (VIDEO)
Noga Tarnopolsky contributed to this report from Jerusalem.
Watch Abbas' address, via PBS NewsHour:
Watch Netanyahu's address: