New YorkBenjamin Netanyahu vowed on Tuesday to fight an “Iranian curtain” descending on the Middle East, pledging to prevent Tehran from ever establishing a permanent foothold in Syria.
The Israeli prime minister chose to echo Winston Churchill’s 1946 speech that declared that communist Eastern Europe had come under an “Iron Curtain” of Soviet subjugation.
“From the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean, from Tehran to Tartus, an Iranian curtain is descending across the Middle East,” Netanyahu warned the UN General Assembly.
“Those who threaten us with annihilation put themselves in mortal peril. Israel will defend itself with the full force of our arms and the full power of our convictions.
“We will act to prevent Iran from establishing permanent military bases in Syria for its air, sea and ground forces,” he said, also vowing to prevent Iran from producing any weapons that could hit the Jewish state.
From the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean, from Tehran to Tartus, an Iranian curtain is descending across the Middle East
– Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Iran has been aiding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iraq’s government in their fights against the Islamic State (IS) group, which has claimed responsibility for a slew of bloody attacks around the world.
Iran’s ruling Shia clerics are also sworn foes of Israel and have supported the militant movements Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories.
Netanyahu has long insisted that Iran, which also has tense relations with major Sunni Arab states, is the pre-eminent threat and unsuccessfully fought to scuttle Iran’s 2015 deal with global powers to give up its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief.
He was unsparing in his criticism of the nuclear pact.
“Change it, or cancel it. Fix it, or nix it,” Netanyahu said.
He repeated a similar line in Argentina last week alongside Argentine President Mauricio Macri.
“So let me take this opportunity and clarify. Our position is straightforward. This is a bad deal – either fix it or cancel it. This is Israel’s position.”
Netanyahu – who in recent years has coined his own sort of theatre at the annual United Nations speech marathon with podium props and dramatic warnings – cracked jokes and rejoiced over the rise of US President Donald Trump.
The right-leaning Israeli leader heaped praise on Trump, who in his own speech hours earlier said the deal with Iran championed by his predecessor Barack Obama was an “embarrassment” and separately threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if it attacks.
In years of listening to UN speeches, “none were bolder, none were more courageous and forthright than the one delivered by President Trump today,” Netanyahu said.
Elsewhere, Trump’s speech was panned. “Trump’s ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times – not the 21st Century UN – unworthy of a reply,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s lead negotiator for the nuclear agreement, said on Twitter.
UN inspectors say Iran has fulfilled its commitments to give up its nuclear activities under the agreement, which was reached with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.
Netanyahu has doubted Iranian intentions and voiced concern that some provisions on curbing uranium enrichment do not go beyond 2025.
Netanyahu directed his barbs at Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iranians in May overwhelmingly re-elected President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who has campaigned on the nuclear deal and better relations with the West.
The Israeli leader drew a distinction between Iranians and their government, saying in Farsi to the Iranian people: “You are our friends.”
Iran, unlike Israel’s Arab neighbours, still has a thriving Jewish community. Until the 1979 Islamic revolution overthrew the US-allied shah, Iran was Israel’s primary ally in the region.
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