(Netanya, Israel) — Over the past several weeks, I have been hearing from current and former senior Israeli officials and advisors at the highest possible levels, that the showdown with Iran is entering the critical “end game” phase. I’m hearing from people with direct knowledge of the plans that war could come in 2013.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is beginning to prepare the public in Israel and around the world for a “military option.” This is why he appeared on CBS’s “Face The Nation” on Sunday (see excerpt of transcript below).
The PM called the Iranian a “messianic, apocalyptic” regime bent on genocide, a reference to the Shia eschatology Khamenei holds that Iran must annihilate Israel and the U.S. to usher in the reign of the Twelfth Imam. Netanyahu also called the incoming Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, a “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” who has bragged in the past about negotiating with the West while secretly advancing nuclear enrichment. What’s more, Netanyahu vowed not to “wait too long” to stop Iran.
Expect more public diplomacy by Netanyahu and his team in the weeks ahead.
This is one of the reasons why the PM is sending his most trusted foreign policy advisor, Ron Dermer, to the U.S. to serve as Israel’s ambassador. Dermer will work to ensure U.S.-Israeli relations are strong at this critical moment. Dermer (who grew up in Miami Beach and is a native English speaker) will also explain Israel’s principles, objectives and actions to the American people before, during, and after any crisis with Iran.
Here’s the key: Israeli intelligence now believes Iran will likely have a “nuclear device” in as soon as four to six months, and an operational nuclear bomb or warhead within a year.
But top Israeli political and military leaders — up to an including the Prime Minister — do not believe they can afford to wait that long. Therefore, they are making final preparations for war, a war that they increasingly believe may have to be launched before this year is over.
Haven’t we heard warnings like this before? Yes, we have. But war was avoided in the past because various countries, including Israel, have used a wide range of covert operations to slow Iran’s progress towards building The Bomb. However, Israeli leaders are concerned that that they have few options left in their bag of tricks, and that with North Korea’s assistance, Iran is about to cross the red line.
Thus, officials here are running out of hope that war can be avoided. They want the U.S. and other world powers to intensify economic sanctions and all other measures necessary to force Tehran to abandon its nuclear plans, give up its enriched uranium, and shut down its enrichment facilities. But they are deeply concerned that the so-called “election” of Hassan Rouhani — widely but wrongly perceived to be a “moderate” and a “reformer” — will cause officials in Washington and elsewhere to lower their guard and actually ease up pressure on the Khamenei regime, rather than crack down harder. And they see Iran running out the clock. Khamenei says no nuclear negotiations can happen before Rouhani takes office in early August. But then they will say Rouhani needs time to build a new team and get up to speed, and so forth.
Privately, senior Israeli officials are now saying if they don’t see decisive action by the world powers to stop Iran soon — at least by early fall — they are prepared to take action of their own. Indeed, it would appear that a majority of the Security Cabinet are now prepared to authorize such action. Meanwhile, Israel continues to run homeland security drills, preparing first responders and civilians alike to be ready for a barrage of missiles and terrorist attacks should war come soon.
To be clear: I’m not saying war will definitely come in 2013. For my part, I continue to pray for peace, even as I — and my colleagues at The Joshua Fund — prepare for war and other national crises here. We should be grateful a major regional war between Israel and Iran hasn’t occurred yet. It could be devastating. Hopefully, the regime in Iran will fall. Perhaps sanctions and/or diplomacy and/or covert operations will make war unnecessary. But I believe it is important to be honest with you about what I’m hearing and keep you informed.
- Please pray for peace in Syria, and in Egypt, and in Israel.
- Please pray for U.S., Israeli and other leaders to have wisdom to know just what to do.
- Please pray for Christian leaders in the region to have courage and wisdom.
- Please pray that all the people of the epicenter develop a deep hunger to read the Bible and discover the power of God’s Word, as we discussed in the recent Epicenter Conference.
- Please pray for The Joshua Fund team and me to be able to keep providing food, medical equipment, and other humanitarian relief supplies for the poor and needy now, while also preparing for the crises that may lie ahead.
Thanks, and God bless you.
SCHIEFFER: And now to the big story overseas, the Middle East, where instability in Cairo, the still raging civil war in Syria, and the continued push for nuclear weapons in Iran has left Israel right in the middle. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joins us this morning from Jerusalem. Prime Minister, thank you so much. We’ll get to Egypt and Syria in a minute. But I want to start with Iran this morning because you said last September that Iran would have the capability to build a nuclear weapon by this summer. It is summer, are they there yet?
NETANYAHU: I said if they continue to enrich at the same rate they will get there. They have taken heed of the red line that I sketched out at the U.N. They’re still approaching it and they’re approaching after the Iranian elections. They’re building ICBMs to reach American — the American mainland — within a few years. They’re pursuing an alternate route of plutonium, that is enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb. One route, plutonium. Another route, ICBMs, intercontinental ballistic missiles to reach you. They don’t need these missiles to reach us, they already have missiles that can reach us. They’re doing that after the election. So they haven’t yet reached it but they’re getting closer to it. And they have to be stopped.
SCHIEFFER: There are reports in Israel, and our sources confirm, Prime Minister, that you want the United States to harden its position on Iran immediately and convey to the new government there that if Iran does not halt the nuclear program, its regime will not survive.
NETANYAHU: I think the important thing is what the U.S. has said. They said the words won’t influence us, what really counts is what the Iranians do. And what they have to do is stop their nuclear program. They have to stop all enrichment of nuclear material, to take out enriched uranium, to dismantle the illegal — and shut down the illegal nuclear facility in Qom. These are the right demands and those should be back up with ratcheted sanctions. You should ratchet up the sanctions and make it clear to Iran that they won’t get away with it. And if sanctions don’t work then they have to know that you’ll be prepared to take military action. That’s the only thing that will get their attention.
SCHIEFFER: Well, do you believe that the United States, there are reports that you feel the United States has been too patient, a little too tolerant in dealing with the Iranians. Are you asking the United States to take a harder line?
NETANYAHU: I think we’ve spoken many times, President Obama and I, about the need to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. I know that is the U.S. policy. What is important is to convey to them, especially after the elections, that that policy will not change and that it will be backed up by increasingly forceful sanctions and military action. Now mind you, there is a new president in Iran, he believes — he’s criticizing his predecessor for being a wolf in wolf’s clothing. His strategy is, be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Smile and build a bomb. He brags about the fact that he talked to the Europeans while completing a nuclear conversion plan in Isfahan. So I think they can’t be allowed to get away with it. They’re getting closer and closer to the bomb and they have to be told in no uncertain terms that that will not be allowed to happen. I think it’s important to understand that we cannot allow it to happen. You know, our clocks are ticking in a different pace. We’re closer than the United States. We’re more vulnerable. And therefore we’ll have to address this question of how to stop Iran, perhaps before the United States does. But as the prime minister of Israel, I’m determined to do whatever is necessary to defend my country, the one and only Jewish state, from a regime that threatens us with renewed annihilation.
SCHIEFFER: Well, the United States has said that we won’t tolerate a nuclear Iran. What else can we say?
NETANYAHU: I think it’s very important to make clear to them that you won’t allow them to have this weapon and to demonstrate that by action. That is, you can also make clear that the nuclear option which is — the military option which is on the table is truly on the table. The Iranians take note of that. Right now my sense is in the international community as a whole that because so many things are happening in the Middle East, things are happening, as you say, in Syria, in Egypt, with the Palestinians, there are many important issues that we have to deal with. And I have a sense that there’s no sense of urgency. And yet on Iran — and yet Iran is the most important, the most urgent matter of all. You should just talk to many of the leaders in this region and they will tell you that. Because all the problems that we have, however important, will be dwarfed by this messianic, apocalyptic, extreme regime that would have atomic bombs. It would make a terrible — a catastrophic change for the world and for the United States, of course, for my country as well. So I think we have our eyes fixed on Iran. They have to know that we’re serious. They have to know that there won’t be an alternative route that they could reach the bomb if they think that, and they think we’ll let them do it, if they think that Israel will let them do it, they’re sorely mistaken.
SCHIEFFER: Well, what — how close are they right now? Are they within a month? Are they within six months of having the capability? How close do you think they are?
NETANYAHU: They’re closer. The most difficult thing in making a bomb is making the fissile nuclear material that is at the heart of the bomb. That is really the 90 percent of the effort, if I have to just put a thumb’s rule on it. And they’re getting closer. They have now about 190 kilos out of the 250 kilos of 20 percent enriched uranium. They had six, seven months — eight months ago about 110 kilos. So they’re edging up to the red line. They haven’t closed — they haven’t crossed it yet. They’re also building faster centrifuges that will enable them to jump the line, so to speak, at a much faster rate, that is within a few weeks, once they get to that critical mass of 250 kilos.
SCHIEFFER: When will you make a decision on whether to attack Iran, because you have said, this will not stand?
NETANYAHU: Well, I can tell you I won’t wait until it’s too late.
SCHIEFFER: All right. I guess we’ll leave it there. Let’s talk a little bit about Egypt. You were worried when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt and installed Morsi as president. He’s now gone. Are you happy about that?
NETANYAHU: Well, look, we’ve been concerned with one thing. That is the maintenance of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. It’s been — it’s been the cornerstone of peace between us and our neighbors, and it’s also been the cornerstone of stability in the Middle East. And our concern, through changing administrations — first Mubarak changed; Morsi came; now Morsi went, and we will see what develops in Egypt — our concern throughout has been maintain the peace treaty. That was and remains my principal concern.
SCHIEFFER: The United States — some here are saying we ought to cut off military aid to this interim government now until they have a democracy there. Do you think we should?
NETANYAHU: Look, that’s an internal American decision. But, again, our concern is the peace treaty with Egypt. One of the foundations of that peace treaty was the U.S. aid given to Egypt.
SCHIEFFER: Had you talked to people in this interim government? Can you deal with them? Do you trust them?
NETANYAHU: We maintain contacts with — formal contacts with the Egyptian government throughout the last two years, and including now. And the important thing from our point of view is not merely to maintain the peace but also stabilize the Sinai peninsula, which is Egyptian territory that is adjacent to our southern border, the Negev. It’s been fraying there. There are a lot of terrorists. There are jihadists. There’s Al Qaida, Hamas, you name it. They’re all over the place. And our — our concern is to prevent attacks against our territory and against our city, our southern city of Eilat. We’ve been doing that and will continue to do that. So our main concern in our contacts with the Egyptian government is to make sure that the peace is preserved and that terror is prevented. And this remains uppermost in my mind.
SCHIEFFER: Reports this morning that…
NETANYAHU: Well, not uppermost, Bob; uppermost in my mind — uppermost in my mind — uppermost in my mind is preventing the greatest terror of all. And that is that the radical Islamist regime in Iran gets the weapons of ultimate terror, nuclear weapons. That has to be prevented for the sake of peace, world peace, not only our survival but your vital interests. And I think the flow of history will judge us if we’re able or unable to prevent this catastrophe.
SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you just one question on the Syrian civil war. Reports this morning that Israel carried out an attack in Syria this month that targeted advanced anti-ship cruise missiles sold to the Syrian government by Russia — can you tell us anything about that?
NETANYAHU: Oh, God, every time something happens in the Middle East, Israel is accused. Most often, it’s accused — and I’m not in the habit of saying what we did or we didn’t do. I’ll tell you what my policy is. My policy is to prevent the transfer of dangerous weapons to Hezbollah and other terror groups, Hezbollah in Lebanon and other terror groups as well. And we stand by that policy.
SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, Mr. Prime Minister, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Wish you the best, and I’ll be back in a minute with some thoughts on Washington and why it can’t seem to get anything done.