Israel does not need permission to exercise its right to self-defense against Iran’s nuclear drive and Syrian chemical weapons, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the BBC in an interview that aired on Thursday.
“Israel’s right to defend its existence is not subject to a traffic light. We don’t need anyone to give us the right to prevent a new Holocaust,” he said regarding the Iranian nuclear threat.
He added that sanctions and diplomacy alone would not halt Iran, which was 80 kg. short of the 250 kg. of 20-percent enriched uranium that it needed to produce a nuclear bomb.
“Without a direct military threat, Iran will not stop,” he said.
He spoke on the eve of US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s first visit to Israel since entering his post earlier this year.
The visit, which begins Saturday, will underscore the close military cooperation between the two countries and will give Hagel a chance to discuss regional threats with Israeli leaders, including the threats from Iran and Syria.
Netanyahu spoke of those issues with his Canadian and British counterparts as well in Wednesday meetings in London, where he also attended the funeral of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
Britain is one of several European countries that support sending weapons to the Syrian opposition that is fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad. A European Union arms embargo, which is likely to be lifted at the end of May, has prevented them from doing so.
Netanyahu dodged a BBC question as to whether he supported ending the arms embargo and arming the Syrian opposition, noting that it was difficult to lump all the rebel forces into one group.
Terrorist groups such as al-Qaida, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad are all operating in Syria among the rebel forces, he said.
“Arming the rebels presents the question of which rebels and which arms, and that is a very complicated question for every country, including my country, Israel,” he said.
However, he continued, all countries should unite on the need to prevent Syria’s store of chemical weapons from falling into the hands of those terrorist groups, he said.
“The main arms that concern us are the arms that are already in Syria.... These are anti-aircraft weapons, these are chemical weapons, and other very, very dangerous weapons that can be game-changers. They would change the condition, the balance of power in the Middle East. They could present a terrorist threat on a world-wide scale,” Netanyahu said.
“If chemical weapons fall into the hands of al-Qaida, that is a challenge to Britain, it is a challenge to Europe, it is a challenge to every Arab country in the Middle East,” he warned.
“We are not aggressive, we do not seek military confrontation. We are prepared to defend ourselves if the need arises,” he said.
While Israel is contending with its neighbor Syria, Netanyahu said he was worried that Iran was close to the red line that he drew on a diagram of a bomb at the United Nations in September to symbolize the point of no return in Tehran’s nuclear drive.
“They have sort of crept up, but not crossed it,” he said.
The IDF has the right to safeguard its citizens should Iran cross that line, he said, adding that the United States had never questioned that right.
He spoke as Reuters reported that Iran had increased the number of advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges installed at its Natanz underground plant, despite tightening international sanctions aimed at stopping Tehran’s nuclear progress.
Netanyahu told the BBC that Iran was determined to build a nuclear bomb and that its engagement in talks with the international community over halting such efforts was purely a ploy to play for time to continue its uranium enrichment.
“The Iranian leaders are using it to stall, to run out the clock and continue their enrichment program,” he said.
The threat of a North Korean nuclear strike has underscored the danger of Iran’s nuclear program, the prime minister said.
“The entire world is paralyzed, shattered, destabilized by this rogue state [North Korea] that has nuclear weapons,” he stated.
According to Netanyahu, Iran is stronger and more dangerous than North Korea and can turn the Middle East into a tinder box.
“The threat of Iran’s getting nuclear weapons is a direct threat to the existence of Israel, but I think that it is a supreme pivot of history. It threatens the peace of the world,” he said.
Meanwhile Thursday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said at the final Army Day ceremony of his presidency that Israeli threats to attack Iran’s nuclear sites were the harmless barking of a dog.
“A dog does nothing more than bark, and we have no confidence in these threats,” Iran’s state news agency (IRNA) quoted him as saying.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who, as commander in chief, has ultimate authority over the armed forces, said last month that the Islamic Republic would raze Tel Aviv “made the slightest mistake.”
New hardware unveiled in Thursday’s parade included a radar-evading attack drone, called Sarir, and updates to the country’s air defense systems.
The Iranian air force also put on display an air-refueling maneuver by Russian-made Sukhoi 24 fighter jets, the Fars news agency reported.
In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry asked US senators pressing for tougher sanctions over Iran’s nuclear ambitions to be patient, saying there was uncertainty in the Islamic Republic two months before its June 14 election.
“I think this is a moment for us to be a little patient,” Kerry said at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“I do think timing and the choice of when we might do something is critical. We need to cooperate together on that,” he said, adding that President Barack Obama’s administration was monitoring the situation closely and working with allies.
Some US lawmakers have been pushing hard for Washington to do more to clamp down on Iran, including imposing even tighter sanctions.
On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution saying Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons posed an international threat, urging full implementation of sanctions and calling on the Obama administration to strengthen their enforcement.
Kerry stressed that Obama was determined that Iran would not succeed in acquiring a nuclear weapon, and noted that his administration was working closely with Israel.
“We are deeply engaged with our Israeli allies, friends, comparing on a regular basis. I think we’re on the same page,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.