PM vague on whether US behind spate of Iran stories

Netanyahu says after three years in power, Israel is strong despite being buffeted by strong winds.

Netayahu flourishing tree 370 (photo credit: HERB KEINON)
Netayahu flourishing tree 370
(photo credit: HERB KEINON)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was tellingly noncommittal Tuesday about whether he thought the US administration was intentionally leaking information about a possible Israeli attack on Iran in order to torpedo it.
At a press conference called to mark three years of his government, Netanyahu – when asked about the leaks – said that US President Barack Obama spoke correctly last month at the AIPAC policy conference when he said there was a need to reduce statements about Iran.
“I am personally acting in this manner, and hope others are doing the same,” he said.
Pressed whether he thought they were, Netanyahu said only, “I hope that they are.”
Netanyahu’s comments follow a report last week in the US magazine Foreign Policy claiming that Israel had secured the use of air bases in Azerbaijan, which neighbors Iran, for a possible attack. That was only one of a number of high-profile reports over the last couple of weeks quoting senior US officials that discussed a possible Israeli attack.
Even though the press conference, one of only a handful Netanyahu has called since taking office, dealt primarily with economic, social and political issues, he did discuss the Islamic Republic.
Iran, he said, was facing serious economic difficulties as a result of recently imposed sanctions, including sanctions of the SWIFT system that limits the country’s ability to receive bank transfers from abroad. At the same time, he said, “it has yet to move backward, even a millimeter, in its nuclear program.”
“Will these difficulties bring the government in Tehran to stop its nuclear program? Time will tell,” he said. “I cannot say to you that this will happen. I know there are difficulties, but there has yet to be a change.”
Culling from the Passover Haggada, which states that in every generation there are those who rise up to destroy the Jewish people, Netanyahu said that the difference was that now – as opposed to 70 years ago – the Jewish people had the ability to defend itself.
The prime minister, in an upbeat mood at the press conference during which he ticked off what he said were the government’s achievements, said he had no intention of calling new elections, but was not afraid of them if they were forced upon him.
In an apparent dig at new Kadima head Shaul Mofaz, whom he said he respected along with Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich, Netanyahu said that the nation needed a leader “able to act well on the international arena, since we do not live in an isolated bubble.”
Known for a rather professorial manner in private meetings, Netanyahu drew a tree on a computerized sketch board that only worked for a short time during the press conference. He said that the tree was flourishing even amid the twin storms buffeting the world and the region: the international economic crisis and the revolutions in the Arab world.
The tree was able to weather the storms because it had deep roots – the country’s connection to Judaism and Zionism, and defense, he said, adding that his government had deepened those roots.
He drew the trunk of the tree and called it the economy, which he said was flourishing under his helm, and that as a result it bore fruits, which he also drew.
The prime minister enumerated the four threats that he thought Israel faced: the nuclear threat, the missile threat, the cyber threat and the threat of porous borders.
On each of these issues, he said that the government was taking action and that it had succeeded to put Iran atop the world’s international agenda.
Netanyahu, accused by critics of calling the press conference to highlight the economy because he was concerned about the likelihood of another round of social protests in the summer, said, “The problems last summer were real, and I am attentive to them.”
He said he was not worried about the likelihood of more social protests this summer.
In advance of the press conference, the Prime Minister’s Office put out a pamphlet highlighting the government’s achievements.
Among the figures: the economy grew some 4.7 percent, well under the 9.5% growth in China, but way ahead of the 0.7% growth in Spain, 1.1% in Britain, 1.5% in the US and 2.7% in Germany.
Unemployment in Israel dropped to 5.4% in 2011, with an additional 237,000 jobs added between 2009-2011. By contrast, the average unemployment rate of EU countries was 9.7% and the unemployment rate in the US was 9%.
The tax rate on gas is 48%, compared to a 56% tax rate both in Britain and France.
The price for a kilowatt of electricity is NIS 58.96, comparable to the 2008 level of NIS 57.74.
In addition to the press conference and material handed out, the Prime Minister’s Office created an animated video on the government’s achievements to mark its three year anniversary.
The press conference was held in the new offices of the Government Press Office at the Malha Technological Park in Jerusalem, and before speaking, Netanyahu affixed a mezuza to the door of the press conference room.