Netanyahu: Only strong position on Iran ‘would avert war’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and growing presence in the Middle East in an exclusive interview with CNN en Español.

“Everybody is on their target list sooner or later, but we are first on their target list,” Netanyahu told CNN’s Jose Levy in a preview of what is likely to be his speech at the United Nations General Assembly next week.

“They say openly, ‘We are going to destroy the state of Israel.'”

Netanyahu is urging the signatories of the Iran nuclear deal — officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA — to reconsider.

“War is coming because of a soft position on Iran, and a stronger position on Iran would avert war,” he said.

“In 8 to 10 years, according to the agreement, Iran will be able to enrich uranium on an industrial scale. That means that they can make not one bomb, but an arsenal of bombs. This agreement should be changed. It should be changed so that the removal of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program should be not a matter of the change of the calendar, but a change in Iran’s aggressive behavior.”

Netanyahu’s message was directed primarily at US President Donald Trump, who has made comments critical of the nuclear deal, despite the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certifying Iran’s compliance with the terms of the agreement at the beginning of the month.

Last week, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley laid out a case for the US to leave the deal, arguing Iran’s technical compliance wasn’t enough. Trump has to certify Iran’s compliance with the deal in October, shortly after the United Nations General Assembly convenes in New York.

“Aside from trying to build atomic bombs, they’re trying to place the Iranian army in Syria. They want to colonize Syria the way they colonized Lebanon,” Netanyahu said, referring to Iranian-proxy Hezbollah, “and bring their air force, Shiite divisions, (and) naval base, with the express view of destroying us and conquering the Middle East.”

Netanyahu is on the first leg of his visit to Latin America, the first by a sitting Israeli prime minister. The trip will take him from Argentina to Colombia and Mexico before he heads to the United States for the UN General Assembly, where he will speak on September 19. Netanyahu will also meet with Trump while in the US.

Speaking of the President’s efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, which Trump called “the ultimate deal,” Netanyahu praised Trump’s efforts, but refused to commit to a two-state solution, the international consensus on the goal for any peace process.

Reiterating a frequent talking point, Netanyahu said Palestinian refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state is “the key to the solution” and “the heart of the conflict.”

Netanyahu also insisted Israel would maintain its military occupation of the West Bank in any agreement, a condition that is unequivocally unacceptable to the Palestinians.

“You will not have prosperity (for Israelis and Palestinians) unless you have security, and you will not have security unless Israel has the overriding security responsibility in this tiny area west of the Jordan River where both Israelis and Palestinians live,” Netanyahu said.

In late August, Netanyahu vowed that he would not remove any settlements from the West Bank. Israel’s settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal under international law.

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