This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," March 7, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: It is no secret nations are terrified that Iran is working on a nuclear weapon. Iran has repeatedly threatened Israel, including a threat to wipe it off the map. Is Israel going to do anything about it?
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, here in Washington, meeting with President Obama, and then going "On the Record."
VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Prime Minister, nice to see you, sir.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. It's good to be with you again, Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: And welcome back to the United States.
NETANYAHU: Thank you.
VAN SUSTEREN: We had fun talking -- I enjoyed talking to you last fall when you were here.
VAN SUSTEREN: Last night, I listened very carefully to your speech, very carefully. And in fact, I have a transcript of it in front of me. And it says that the international community's tried diplomacy, that hasn't worked, that the community has applied sanctions, that hasn't worked, either, that there are efforts to impose tougher sanctions, but Iran's nuclear program continues in spite of that.
You said Iran's goal is to develop nuclear weapons, and as prime minister, you will never gamble with the security of Israel. It sounds like war is inevitable.
NETANYAHU: Oh, I don't think so. I mean, we've seen, in fact, that Iran backed off from its nuclear program, its nuclear weapons program, really only once in the 15, 16 years that I've been warning the world about the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran. And the only time they backed away was in 2003, when they thought there'd be a credible military threat against them.
So in fact, the paradox is that if they actually believe that they're going to face the military option, you probably won't need the military option.
VAN SUSTEREN: And I guess that's why -- I suppose that Secretary of Defense Panetta's statements that military options are on the table and President Obama's statement, as well, is helpful to discourage Iran.
NETANYAHU: I think these are important statements. I think that the idea that containment vis-a-vis a nuclear Iran is not an option are important statements. Just remember what it means. You try to contain a regime that is fostering terror worldwide, that could use nuclear terror here at any city, any port. That's a very dubious proposition.
So I think all these things are important, as was the president's statement of something that is very true about the ethos of what Israel is all about, that Israel, as a sovereign country, must have the ability to defend itself by itself against any threat. And as a sovereign country, we have the right to decide to act in our own defense.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is there anyone that disputes that, though, that Israel doesn't have a right to defend itself, doesn't have a right to its sovereignty? I mean, obviously, the sovereignty (INAUDIBLE) but the right to defend yourself.
NETANYAHU: Well, you know, it's a question of the assessment of when have you to activate that right. I think that's the real important thing. I think the reiteration of that basic proposition was important. I think it -- you can't repeat that too often.
VAN SUSTEREN: I guess that means a little bit in terms of preemptive, whether you preempt Iran taking nuclear action, building a bomb, is whether you go in there ahead of time? Is that what you mean?
NETANYAHU: Well, I mean that -- I mean that the Jewish people were faced often in our history with a situation that people try to destroy us. In fact, they did destroy millions of Jews in the last century. And we could do nothing about it because we had no sovereign state.
Now they still try. They still threaten to destroy us, but this time, there's a state of Israel, and if necessary, we'll act in our own defense. And I think it's very important to repeat that clearly. And obviously, this is something that is perhaps the most -- the primary -- the supreme responsibility that I, as the prime minister of Israel, have, to -- to guarantee that the future of the Jewish state, the Jewish future, is secure.
VAN SUSTEREN: You talk about the Jewish future, but you also touched on last night that if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, obviously you are in the direct line of fire and Ahmadinejad has made very derogatory marks and stated his very ugly intentions towards Israel.
NETANYAHU: Now you are being a diplomat. He said that Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth and they are developing nuclear weapons to do it, for that purpose. Not only for that. They could shut down the Straits of Hormuz. They are threatening that. You are worried about the price of oil today. Think about what it would mean if Iran, this radical regime that chants "Death to America! Death to Israel!" A, they get their hands on atomic bombs. They could use it against any one of us, b, they could give it to their terrorist proxies to use against any one of us, three, they could threaten credibly to block the Straits of Hormuz, which would send the price of oil skyrocketing, not anything that even remotely resembles what we have now, and they will pocket the dough because they are oil producers.
So these are things that could change the world. It could be like a hinge of history. We could live in another time. We have never had since the advent of nuclear weapons a regime that could act with such irresponsibility having those weapons of mass death.
So I think this is something that we should -- we should talk about. Everybody talks about the -- you know, the costs of taking action, to stop Iran. I think it's important to start on the cost of not acting to stop Iran, of a world in which the ayatollahs would have atomic bombs. I think that would be catastrophic.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do you have a sense that other nations have that sense of seriousness that you have about this issue? Or do you think many nations think we can talk our out of this a little bit?
NETANYAHU: I think they would like it see Iran agree to the dismantling nuclear program. I think they are trying to press them to do that. The pressures have been applied. They have intensified. The economic sanctions hurt Iran, economically, no question about that. But so far, it hasn't -- these sanctions haven't achieved the one goal they have, which is to make Iran stop their nuclear weapons program.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do you have any doubt they have a nuclear weapons program?
NETANYAHU: God, I said yesterday, what do you think Iran is doing all of this -- developing these underground halls with thousands of centrifuges to enrich uranium, underground nuclear facility. They're building ICBM, intercontinental ballistic missiles, to carry, what? Medical isotopes? That's their explanation? They are absorbing these crippling sanctions. And I said yesterday, what are they doing it for? I said yesterday, if it looks like a duck, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck -- it's a duck. It's a nuclear duck.
So I don't think anyone seriously thinks that Iran is doing all of this, going through all of this huge investment, taking huge risks for anything but a nuclear program, and I think we should recognize that.
And the second thing we should recognize is that so far we have not been able to stop their nuclear program, notwithstanding the tough sanctions that have been applied. They are still going away. And, by the way, that's not what I am saying. That's what the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, just said yesterday. They published a report and said that Iran is continuing and in fact accelerating its program. For god's sakes, Ahmadinejad is taking people on guided tours of these facilities. People, the international inspectors are actually saying there is material near low enriched uranium for five bombs and they are enriching uranium now at a higher level to give them their nuclear weapons. I think there is no question.
VAN SUSTEREN: I guess I asked because is one of the things that the more we talk and have diplomacy, there is more of a chance to build more, develop more. So diplomacy does have its drawback that way, spending a lot of time talking if they don't stop the program.
And the other problem too is in 2003, with weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, there was so much certainty and it turned out, our intelligence was wrong on that. So I am trying to balance the two.
NETANYAHU: First of all, there is no question. There is no comparison. In the case of Iraq, I was on the Israeli cabinet when we discussed this issue. We didn't know. We couldn't say that they didn't have a nuclear weapons program, we couldn't say if they did. In the case of Iran there is absolutely no question. We share all of that information. We know the stockpiling of enriched uranium. We know the development of ICBMs. We know a lot more. And we share this information. I don't think that's comparable to --
VAN SUSTEREN: What's the timeline? How much time do we have?
NETANYAHU: Every day that passes makes it closer and closer.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is it weeks, months, or years?
NETANYAHU: It was a lot further away 15 years ago when I started talking about it. It was a lot further away 10 years ago. It was a lot further away five years. It was a lot further away five months ago. They are getting there, and they are getting very, very close.
Now, could they use the talks to deceive and delay? You bet. That's what they have been up to. They have had talks to do this or to do that. But effectively, they continue to go through -- the only way you get a result if you got them to agree to freeze their enrichment, take out all the enriched uranium that they have enriched, take it out of Iran, the stuff that can make bombs. If they want to make medical isotopes, you can give them back -- uranium that can serve that purpose, a peaceful purpose. And they can dismantle this underground facility they have in a place called Qom, which is basically an underground nuclear bunker. They could do all of that. Then you would have an indication that the talks have actually produced something. But personally, I'm skeptical. I think they have bamboozled the west. And they think they can get away with it.
VAN SUSTEREN: That goes back to my first question. I don't see anything to indication that Ahmadinejad wants to did anything but give lots of trouble to Israel.
NETANYAHU: No. Not only to us.
VAN SUSTEREN: It's a big problem.
NETANYAHU: To you.
VAN SUSTEREN: It's a big problem. Weapons of mass destruction, a nuclear bomb is a big problem for all of us, not just Israel. So it seems -- I guess I am trying to figure out, how is it -- how is war not inevitable or military action not inevitable? And if the increased sanctions effective, we would have to other countries not cheating and violating those sanctions.
NETANYAHU: That's one of the problems, to get -- so far, we haven't gotten all the countries, buying uranium and some large companies haven't. Again, they haven't actually -- it's hurt their economy. But it has not stopped their program by one wit. And that's a fact. It hurts their economy, but it hasn't stopped the program.
VAN SUSTEREN: I think they even bragged about that in the last 24 hours that the sanctions aren't going to affect their nuclear program.
NETANYAHU: So far it hasn't. You know, I think that the only way that very strong sanctions would work if they were coupled with a clear military option that the Iranians believed would be applied to. That's the acid test. They believe that there is a credible military option if they actually froze the enrichment and stopped the program. That's the sure-fire test. We had that once in 2003, but we haven't had it since.
VAN SUSTEREN: Coming up, a warning that the Mideast could turn into a nuclear tinderbox. And it is not just Israel that is in deep trouble if Iran gets a nuclear weapon. More from Prime Minister Netanyahu. That's next.
VAN SUSTEREN: Here's Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
VAN SUSTEREN: Could your country do this military action alone? I suppose you saw the articles the last couple of weeks and there are leaks to the American press that it would be an extraordinary military challenge to go in and take these out. Can you do it?
NETANYAHU: You know, I never talk about that. Everybody else talks about it every day. How about every hour? I open the paper and there is a new assessment of what Israel can do and can't do and the operational timeline, all of that, in great detail. Well, you know, not from me. I don't talk about it. I will say that Israel has grave concerns. We don't have the capabilities of the United States, but we are a capable country.
VAN SUSTEREN: You spent a long time with President Obama in the Oval Office. What can you tell me about that conversation?
NETANYAHU: I thought it was a very good conversation because it was open, it was honest, between two leaders of two allies, great allies. I think, you know, I think that Israel's alliance with the United States is of profound importance to everyone in Israel.
And I think -- I think America's alliance with Israel is important to the United States because when you look at the Middle East, what do you have? You don't have that many reliable allies, solid democracy that is unabashedly pro-American, doesn't make any excuses for it, cuts across the entire population. You don't have people chanting "Death to America" in Israel. You don't have people saying we want to move away from America, on the contrary. That's an island of stability and reliability in the heart of the middle-east, which is a very unstable, unreliable region for the United States, and one fraught with great dangers.
These terrorists -- Iran has slaughtered and arranged the slaughter of hundreds, if not more, Americans. It's helped kill American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. It has tried to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington. Its proxy Hezbollah killed 241 in Lebanon. God forbid that such -- such a regime would have atomic bombs? That would be a great threat to the United States, to American lives, to Israel, certainly, to America's allies, to the supply of oil. It would spark a mad nuclear arms race that could turn Israel into a nuclear tinderbox.
This is a fantastic threat to the peace of the world, to the security of my country -- certainly, but to the security of your country and to the peace to the world. I think it's something that must be stopped. I can't stress that.
And even though people don't see that, sometimes people don't see a danger coming at them until it materializes. Churchill called it the slumber of democracies. He said democracies tend to sleep and they are woken sort of at the last moment by the jarring gong of danger. Well, if I could start sounding the jarring gong of danger, not to disregard all the dangers that are fraught. We are trying to stop this danger from materializing, but also understanding the enormous consequences of not stopping it. This could be so -- it could be a different world, one that you regret that we allowed to happen. It has happened before.
VAN SUSTEREN: What about the United States? Senator McCain, suggesting that we should have military intervention or some assistance in Syria. Obviously, Syria's the gateway from Iran to Syria to Hezbollah. What's your view on that?
NETANYAHU: First of all, there is a slaughter going on in Syria, which is despicable. I mean, there is daily carnage. There are tanks, machine guns. I mean, it's terrible. There is mass slaughter there, and it's abominable.
I am not sure it makes sense for me as the prime minister of Israel to tell you what we should do or not do to stop this, certainly, what we should do, because I am not sure if by saying that I will be helping the very people we are trying to help. So I will just say that I think what is going on there is abominable.
Does Syria help Iran? Yes. Iran is propping up Assad right now. Its own people are there. It's proxy Hezbollah is there helping the slaughter. So obviously there is this connection. But if the Syrian regime changes and falls -- and it might -- and I won't get into saying more than that, that's not necessarily going to stop the centrifuges from spinning in Iran. In fact, it might not do interesting.
VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you, sir. Nice to see you, sir.
NETANYAHU: Thank you.