Prime Minister Netanyahu's Interview with David Gregory of NBC's Meet the Press

September 15, 2012

Netanyahu: Thank you. Good to be with you, David.

Netanyahu: First of all, President Obama, and the US Administration have repeatedly said that Israel has the right to act by itself against any threat to defend itself. And I think that that remains our position, and for me the issue as the Prime Minister of a country that is threatened with annihilation by a regime that is racing… a brutal regime in Tehran that is racing to develop nuclear bombs for that, and obviously we cannot delegate the job of stopping Iran, if all else fails, to someone else. That was the main point that I was saying there, it was directed at the general international community. Other leaders call me, tell me, don't do it, it's not necessary, the danger of acting is greater than not acting. And I always say that the danger of not acting in time is much greater because Iran with nuclear weapons would mean that the kind of fanaticism that you see storming your embassies would have a nuclear weapon. Don't let these fanatics have nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu: No. President Obama has said that he is determined to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. I appreciate that and I respect that. I think implicit in that is that if you are determined to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, it means you'll act before they get nuclear weapons. I just think that it is important to communicate to Iran that there is a line that they won't cross. I think a red line, in this case, works to reduce the chances of the need for military action because once the Iranians understand that there is a line that they can't cross, they're not likely to cross it.
When President Kennedy set a red line in the Cuban missile crisis, he was criticized, but it turned out, it didn't bring war, it actually pushed war back and probably purchased decades of peace with the Soviet Union.
Conversely, when there was no American red line set before the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and maybe that war could have been avoided.
I can tell you David, that Iran has been placed with a few red lines on a few matters, and they've avoided crossing them. So I think that as they get closer and closer and closer to the achievement of weapons grade material, and they're very close, they're six months away from being about 90% of the enriched uranium for an atom bomb. I think that you have to place that red line before them now, before it's too late. That was the point that I was making.

Netanyahu: First of all we have different capabilities. You're a big country with a much bigger military and less vulnerability; you're thousands of miles away. We're a small country, they call directly for our annihilation, we have smaller military capacities than you, so obviously we have different clocks.
But as Iran gets closer and closer and closer to the completion of its nuclear weapons program, and its enrichment program, and what we can track definitely is their enrichment program because we have the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, confirming that they're rushing forward. I think it's important that we set a line that so they know they cannot pass that without consequences, without grievous consequences.
I think the differences between our capabilities and yours begin to disappear as we get closer and closer to the end game, and we're getting very close.

Netanyahu: The way I would say it, David, is that they're in the red zone. They're 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, of the world really.

Netanyahu: We always reserve the right to act, but I think that if we are able to coordinate, together, a common position, we increase the chances that neither one of us will have to act.
Iran is very cognizant of its degrees of freedom, as the IAEA report said, not only have they not stopped, they actually rush forward. They're rushing forward with their enrichment program, and I think it's very important to make it clear to them that they can't just proceed with impunity.

Netanyahu: I'm not going to be drawn into the American election. And what's guiding my statements is not the American political calendar but the Iranian nuclear calendar. If they stop spinning the centrifuges and took time out for the American elections, I wouldn't have to talk, and I wouldn't have to raise this issue. But as the Prime Minister of Israel, knowing that this country committed to our destruction is getting closer to the goal of having weapons of mass destruction, then I speak out. It's really not a partisan political issue. I think it's important for anyone who is the President of the United States, to be in that position of preventing Iran of having this nuclear weapons capability. I'm talking to the President, I just talked to him the other day, we're in close consultations. It's really not a partisan issue; it's a policy issue, not a political issue.

Netanyahu: I have no doubt that they are equally committed to preventing that, it's a vital American interest, it's an existential interest in my case, so this isn't the issue. We're united on this across the board. What I'm saying is that they're getting so close, that you have to make sure that they don't get close enough, or close to the point where you can't already affect it. Not only we Israel can't, but anyone else, and they're getting to that point. It's not a question of how long it takes them to get to a nuclear weapon. Secretary Panetta said it's about a year, but when do they get to the point that we can't really affect the assembly of a nuclear weapon, and that is getting a lot closer.

Netanyahu: I think Iran is very different. They put their zealotry above their survival; they have suicide bombers all over the place. I wouldn't rely on their rationality. Since the advent of nuclear weapons, you've had countries who had access to nuclear weapons who always made a careful calculation of cost and benefit. But Iran is 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 get nuclear weapons? I've heard some people suggest this, David, I actually read it in the American press. They said, you know, if you take action, that's a lot worse than having Iran with nuclear weapon. Some have even said that Iran with nuclear weapons would stabilize the Middle East. Stabilize the Middle East! I think the people who say this set a new standard for human stupidity. We have to stop them. Don't rely on containment, that is not the American policy, it would be wrong, it would be a grave grave mistake. Don't let these fanatics have nuclear weapons. It's terrible for Israel, it's terrible for America, it's terrible for the world.

Netanyahu: You're trying to get me into the American election, and I'm not going to do that. The relationship between Israel and the United States is a bond… just a very powerful bond. It was, it is and will be, will continue to be. There's no-one, there's no leader in the world who's more appreciative that me, of the strength of this alliance. It's very strong. There's no-one is Israel who appreciates more than me, the importance of the American support for Israel. It's not a partisan issue. In fact, we cherish the bi-partisan support of Democrats and Republicans alike. This is critical for us. I think it's critical that we take…

Netanyahu: There you go again, David. You're trying to draw me in to something that is simply not the case and is not my position. My position is that we have strong cooperation, we continue to cooperate with the best of allies, and Israel is the one reliable ally of the United States in the Middle East, and if that wasn't understood until yesterday. So there's no bus, we're not going to get into that discussion, except to say one thing. We have a strong alliance and we're going to continue to have a strong alliance. I think the important question.. .The only bus that is important is the Iranian nuclear bus. That's the one that we have to derail, and that's my interest, that's my only interest.

Netanyahu: I think people focus on the spark, the spark of a reprehensible and irresponsible film is a spark, but it doesn't explain anything, it doesn't explain 9/11, it doesn't explain the decades of animosity and the grievances that go back centuries. In fact there's a tinderbox of hatred here, from a virulent strain of Islam that takes moderate Muslims and Arabs and attacks them first, but seeks to deprive all of us of the basic values that we have. They're against human rights, they're against the rights of women, they're against freedom of religion, they're against freedom of speech and freedom of expression, they're against all the things that we value. They're against tolerance, they're against pluralism and they're against freedom. They view not your policies but you, the very existence of the United States and its values and by extension Israel, they view that as an intolerable crime, and we have to understand that. We have to deal with it, and we have to be in close support, because in this vast expanse of land, you can understand why they are so antagonistic to us, because for them, we are you and you are us, at least on this point, they're right.

Netanyahu: I'm always pleased and happy to have a conversation with President Obama. I think he's met me more than any other leader in the world, and I appreciate that. We've had our discussions. Our schedules on this visit didn't work out, I come to New York, he leaves New York. But we continue with close consultations. We have urgent business, Israel and America, to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. I think it's important to delineate a red line for Iran, so we're not faced with the conundrum of what to do if we don't place a red line and they just proceed to the bomb.

Netanyahu: Thank you. Happy New Year to all of you.