Tuesday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the final scheduled speaker at the week-long opening of the UN General Assembly. With the presidents and prime ministers who had earlier descended on New York long gone, he hoped to avoid being last and least.
As it turned out, there were two countries listening closely: North Korea and Iran. Their permanent U.N. representatives decided to exercise a “right of reply.”
North Korea called Israel “a cancer in the Middle East.”
The Iranian ambassador pounded his chest and then said Iran was guilty of nothing but a “smile attack.”
Ironically, the two made Netanyahu’s case for him. The threats of antisemitism and of nuclear weapons in the hands of states sponsors of terror are inextricably bound.
The Israeli Prime Minister pointed to a series of inconvenient facts about Iranian intentions and actions that the Obama administration has either rejected or ignored in its quest for peace in our time.
When the Iranian regime’s stooges chant “death to the Jews” they mean it. Rouhani is “acceptable” inside Iran because he’s a loyal follower of its Supreme Leader.
There was nothing democratic about Rouhani’s election, which came after 99% of candidates were banned from running.
Rouhani is no innocent; he was national security advisor while his regime murdered Israelis and Americans around the world.
After his appointment, the Iranian nuclear weapons program has continued unabated. His rhetoric may be “soothing,” but there is no substantial difference with his predecessor, Ahmadinejad.
In Netanyahu’s words: “I wish I could believe Rouhani, but I don't. Because facts are stubborn things.”
His problem, however, is that President Obama is even more stubborn.
The Israeli leader may have thought that the facts would speak for themselves. He quoted Iran’s obvious lie only last week that “it has never chosen deceit and secrecy.”
Actually, in both 2002 and 2009, Iran was caught red-handed secretly building nuclear facilities.
Netanyahu quoted from Rouhani’s own published playbook: he had fooled the West by manufacturing “a calm environment” while his nuclear program proceeded full steam ahead.
The Israeli prime minister spelled out exactly what Iran really wants from its so-called “charm offensive.” It wants “to retain sufficient nuclear material and infrastructure to race to the bomb at a time of its choosing.”
And he tried to make the point as plain as possible. He quipped that Rouhani thinks “he can have his yellow cake and eat it too.”
What he didn’t say, was that Rouhani has invited Obama to tea and the president of the United States has accepted.
After setting out the facts, the Israeli leader tried to sound the alarm to those beyond Israel. He cautioned that “a nuclear-armed Iran will make the specter of nuclear terrorism a clear and present danger” and that “a nuclear-armed Iran will not be another North Korea, but another fifty North Korea's.”
And yet Netanyahu knew full-well that his U.N. warnings had fallen on deaf ears year-after-year. So he concluded with a summary of what Israel intends to do if nobody listens.
First, his country takes Iranian promises to wipe Israel off the map seriously. Such words are not “bluster.” “The world may have forgotten this lesson. The Jews have not.”
And second, “Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. If Israel is forced to stand alone, it will stand alone.” The Jewish people are defenseless no longer.
It was a powerful moment. But it was just a moment.
U.N. delegates went to lunch. The country went back to thinking about gridlock in Washington. And the Iranian centrifuges continued spinning.
With business as usual all around, there are very few mysteries left in this saga. What will President Obama do to Israel to attempt to prevent Netanyahu from making good on his promise to stop Iran and defend the Jewish state? And will it work?
Anne Bayefsky is director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust. Follow her on Twitter @AnneBayefsky.