Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took his push for red lines on Iran to the US public on Sunday, interviewing on two morning political talks shows and using US reference points like the Cuban Missile Crisis and football’s “red zone” to explain his position.
Netanyahu, in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, said it was important to communicate to Iran that there is a line that it cannot cross, and added that president John F. Kennedy set a similar red line in the 1962 Cuba Missile Crisis that did not bring about war, as some had warned, but “actually pushed war back and probably purchased decades of peace with the Soviet Union.”
“Conversely,” the prime minister said, “when there was no American red line set before the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and maybe that war could have been avoided.”
Without going into details, Netanyahu said that Iran had been given red lines in the past, and had stopped short of 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 90 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,” he said.
Netanyahu used an American football metaphor to further make his point, saying that the Iranians were 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.”
With many in the US media arguing that Netanyahu was trying to “tie the hands” of US President Barack Obama by getting him to declare the point beyond which he would use military action, Netanyahu argued that red line would actually reduce the likelihood of military action because once the Iranians understood that there was such a line, they would not likely cross it.
Netanyahu blasted those who argued that a containment policy was possible with a nuclear Iran just as it was with the Soviet Union.
Iran, he said, was “very different” and was “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?” Netanyahu mentioned that he had also heard the argument that a nuclear armed Iran would stabilize the Middle East, and said in response that “I think the people who say this have set a new standard for human stupidity.”
The prime also used a distinctively American reference point when dismissing the notion put forward by a CNN interviewer that perhaps the Iranians were in pursuit of nuclear capability for peaceful purposes.
“This is a country that denies the Holocaust, promises to wipe out Israel, is engaged in terror throughout the world.
It’s like Timothy McVeigh walking into a shop in Oklahoma City and saying ‘I like to tend my garden. I would like to buy some fertilizer.’ ‘How much do you want?’ ‘Oh, I don’t know, 20,000 pounds.’ “Come on, we know that they’re working towards a weapon,” the prime minister said. “It’s not something that we surmise. We have absolute certainty about that.”
Netanyahu’s arguments, however, did not convince the administration.
Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, responded to his comments on Meet the Press by saying on the same program that Obama “has been very, very clear. Our bottom line, if you want to call it a red line, [the] president’s bottom line has been that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon and we will take no option off the table to ensure that it does not acquire a nuclear weapon, including the military option.”
Rice said Iran was “not there yet,” and that “there is time and space for the pressure we are mounting, which is unprecedented in terms of sanctions, to still yield results.”
While the “window is not infinite,” Iran’s becoming a nuclear power is “not imminent,” she said.
The sanctions were having an impact as the Iranian economy was suffering and shrinking, and the country was “more isolated than ever internationally,” Rice said.
In addition, she said, the Iranian leadership was fractured and divided. “We are committed and President Obama is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” she said.
“It is not a policy of containment,” she stressed. “But the most difficult and profound decision that any president has to make is the decision to go to war. And this president is committed to exhausting pressure, economic pressure, and diplomacy while there is still time before making a decision of such consequence.”