On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press," speaking out against Iran and against the idea that going to war with Iran would be worse than a nuclear Iran.
Netanyahu, who got in a spat with the White House this week over defining the "red lines" which Iran cannot cross before America endorses military action, told host David Gregory, "I mean I heard some people suggest, David, I actually read this in the American press. They said, "Well, you know, if you take action, that's a lot worse than having Iran with nuclear weapons." Some have even said that Iran with nuclear weapons would stabilize the Middle East, stabilize the Middle East. I think the people who say this have set a new standard for human stupidity."
Although Israel does not seem to have any plans for an immediate attack on Iran, the rhetoric has been ratcheted up in recent days, which made Netanyahu's interview all the more important.
Here are some highlights from Netanyahu's "Meet the Press" interview:
1) On Iran
GREGORY: Is it your view that this administration is either unwilling or unable to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: No. President Obama has said that he’s determined to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and I appreciate that and I respect that. I think implicit in that is that if you’re determined to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, it means you’ll act before they get nuclear weapons. I just think that it’s important to communicate to Iran that there is a line that they won’t cross. I think a red line in this case works to reduce the chances of the need for military action because once the Iranians understand that there’s no-- there’s a line that they can’t cross, they are not likely to cross it, you know, when President Kennedy set a red line in the Cuban missile crisis, he was criticized. But it turned out it didn’t bring war, it actually pushed war back and probably purchased decades of peace with the Soviet Union. Conversely, when there was no American red line set before the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and maybe that war could have been avoided. And I can tell you David that Iran has been placed with some clear red lines on a few matters and they have avoided crossing them. So I think that as they get closer and closer and closer to the achievement of weapons grade material, and they are very close, they are six months away from being about ninety percent of having the enriched uranium for an atom bomb, I think that you have to place that red line before them now before it’s-- it’s too late. That was the point that I was making.
GREGORY: As a prime minister of Israel, has Iran crossed your red line?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, the way I would say it David is they are in the red zone. You know, they are in the last 20 yards. And you can’t let them cross that goal line. You can’t let them score a touchdown because that would have unbelievable consequences, grievous consequences, for the peace and security of us all-- of the world really.
2) On Mitt Romney
GREGORY: Your criticism, your calling on President Obama to set this red line, comes in the middle of a heated presidential campaign. You understand the American political system very well. You’re very sophisticated in that regard. In your view, would Governor Mitt Romney as President Romney make Israel safer? Would he take a harder line against Iran than President Obama in your judgment?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: God, I’m-- I’m not going to be drawn into the American election. And-- and what’s guiding my statements are-- is not the American political calendar but the Iranian nuclear calendar. They’re just-- you know, if they stop spinning the centrifuges for-- and took timeout for the American elections, I wouldn’t have to talk. And I wouldn’t have to raise this issue. But as the prime minister of Israel, knowing that this country committed to our destruction is getting closer to the goal of having weapons of mass destruction then I speak out. And it’s got-- it’s really not a partisan political issue. And I think it’s important for anyone who is the president of the United States to be in that position of preventing Iran from having this nuclear weapons-- nuclear weapons capability. And I’m talking to the president. I just talked to him the other day. We are in close consultations. We’re trying to prevent that. It’s really not a partisan issue. It’s a policy issue not a political issue.
3) On Containment
GREGORY: Why can’t Iran be contained just as the Soviet Union was? There are those in your country and in the United States who believe that a containment strategy would actually work?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I think Iran is very different. They put their zealotry above their survival. They have suicide bombers all over the place. I wouldn’t rely on their rationality, you know, you-- since the advent of nuclear weapons, you had countries that had access to nuclear weapons who always made a careful calculation of cost and benefit. But Iran is guided by a leadership with an unbelievable fanaticism. It’s the same fanaticism that you see storming your embassies today. You want these fanatics to have nuclear weapons? I mean, I’ve heard some people suggest, David, I actually I read this in the American press. They said, well, you know, if you take action, that’s-- that’s a lot worse than having Iran with nuclear weapons. Some have even said that Iran with nuclear weapons would stabilize the Middle East-- stabilize the Middle East. I-- I think the people who say this have set a new standard for human stupidity. We have to stop them. Don’t rely on containment. That is not the American policy. It would be wrong. It would be a grave, grave mistake. Don’t let these fanatics have nuclear weapons. It’s terrible for Israel and it’s terrible for America. It’s terrible for the world.
GREGORY: Prime Minister, one more question on the American election. You have been accused this week by pundits in this country of trying to interfere in this presidential election, siding with Governor Mitt Romney. Now, Governor Romney for a year, and he said it in his convention speech, has said, quote, “President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus.” Do you agree or disagree with Governor Romney’s charge? It’s a serious charge.
4) On the riots in the Middle East
GREGORY: Final question on the broader Middle East and what we’re seeing this week. This anti-American and indeed anti-Israeli rage throughout the Middle East attacking our embassy, killing a United States ambassador as you well know. What has been unleashed and what can United States and its allies specifically do to contain it?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, look, I-- I-- I think people focus on the spark. The spark of reprehensible and irresponsible film is a-- is a spark, but it’s not-- it doesn’t explain anything. I mean, it doesn’t explain 9/11. It doesn’t explain the decades of animosity and the grievances that go back centuries. In fact, there’s a tinderbox of hatred here from a virulent strain of Islam that takes moderate Muslims and Arabs and attacks them first but seeks to deprive all of us of the basic-- the basic values that we have. They’re against the human rights. They’re against the rights of women. They’re against freedom of religion. They’re against freedom of speech and freedom of expression. They’re against all the things that we value. They’re against tolerance. They’re against-- they’re against pluralism, and they’re against freedom. And they’re-- they’re-- they view not your policies but you, the very existence of United States and its values, and by extension Israel. They view that as an intolerable crime. And we have to understand that. We have to deal with it. And we have to be the close support because in-- in this vast expanse of land, you can understand why they are so-- so antagonistic to us because for them we are you and you are us. And at least on this point they’re right.
5) On upcoming UN General Assembly meetings
GREGORY: Finally, prime minister, did you feel snubbed not getting a face-to-face meeting with President Obama in New York during the upcoming U.N. meetings? Would you like to have that face-to-face encounter? Would it be helpful to your relationship at this point?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: You know, I’m always pleased and-- and happy to have a conversation with President Obama. He’s-- I think he’s met me more than any other leader in the world and I-- I appreciate that. We’ve had our discussions. Our-- our schedules on this visit didn’t work out. I come to New York and he leaves New York. But we continue in close consultations. We have urgent business, Israel and America, to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. I think it’s important to delineate a red line for Iran so we’re not faced with a conundrum of what to do if we don’t place a red line and they just proceed to the bomb.