By Michelle Nichols, Matt Spetalnick and Stephen Farrell
NEW YORK, Sept 27 (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Monday that Iran had crossed “all red lines” in its nuclear program and vowed that Israel would not allow Tehran to acquire a nuclear weapon.
In his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Bennett said Iran sought to dominate the Middle East under a “nuclear umbrella” and urged a more concerted international effort to halt Iran‘s nuclear activities.
But he also hinted at the potential for Israel to act on its own against Iran, something it has repeatedly threatened in the past.
“Iran‘s nuclear program has hit a watershed moment, and so has our tolerance. Words do not stop centrifuges from spinning,” Bennett said. “Israel will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
Bennett, a far-right politician who ended Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year run as prime minister in June, wants U.S. President Joe Biden to harden his stance against Iran, Israel’s regional arch-foe. He opposes the new U.S. administration’s efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that Biden’s White House predecessor, Donald Trump, abandoned in 2018.
Indirect U.S.-Iran talks in Vienna have stalled as Washington awaits the next move by Iran‘s new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi.
Bennett struck a less combative tone before the United Nations than Netanyahu, who often relied on props and visual aids to dramatize his accusations against Iran, an approach that critics derided as political stunts.
But Bennett has been just as adamant as Netanyahu was in pledging to do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran, which Israel views as an existential threat, from building a nuclear weapon. Iran consistently denies it is seeking a bomb.
“Iran‘s nuclear weapons program is at a critical point. All red lines have been crossed, inspections ignored,” Bennett said. “They’re getting away with it.”
He called for international action. “If we put our heads to it, if we’re serious about stopping it, if we use our resourcefulness, we can prevail, Bennett said.
Bennett also took aim at Raisi, accusing him of serious human rights abuses against his own people over the years. Raisi is under targeted U.S. sanctions.
BENNETT SPEECH IGNORES ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT
Bennett made not a single direct mention of the Palestinians in his remarks, except to accuse Iran of backing anti-Israel militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Bennett, who sits atop an ideologically diverse coalition, opposes Palestinian statehood.
Biden, in his U.N. speech last week, declared renewed U.S. support for a two-state solution, after Trump distanced himself from that longstanding tenet of U.S. policy, but said Israel and the Palestinians were a long way from achieving it.
Biden’s aides are mindful that U.S. pressure for a resumption of long-dormant peace talks or major Israeli concessions could destabilize the fragile Israeli coalition.
Addressing the General Assembly via video link on Friday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of destroying the two-state solution with actions he said could lead Palestinians to demand equal rights within one binational state comprising Israel, the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Bennett focused instead on what he touted as the benefits of Israel’s landmark normalization agreements brokered by the Trump administration last year with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco. “More is to come,” he said.
Israel has trumpeted its new diplomatic relations, especially with the Persian Gulf neighbors, as having helped forge a regional bulwark against their shared foe, Iran.
Palestinian officials said they felt betrayed by their Arab brethren for reaching deals with Israel without first demanding progress toward the creation of a Palestinian state.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols at the UN, Matt Spetalnick in Washington and Stephen Farrell in London; additional reporting by Zainah El-Haroun and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Editing by Alex Richardson and Grant McCool)