Inside Story

Netanyahu’s ‘red line’

As Israel demands a nuclear ultimatum for Iran, what will happen if Tehran refuses to back down?

It is the speech everyone is talking about  – and it came complete with visual aids. Addressing the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, illustrated how close Iran was to building a nuclear weapon with a cartoon-style bomb and a red marker pen.

As far as Iranian leaders are concerned – no, it didn’t work because it is not the first time … that Israelis has used threatening language against the Islamic Republic of Iran, so Iran is used to this kind of language from the Israeli leaders so I don’t think it will change anything in Iran.

– Sadegh Zibakalam,  a political science professor at Tehran University

His point though was very serious and it sounded a warning that as long as the Iranian nuclear issue remains unresolved, Israel will keep moving towards its self-styled ‘red line’, beyond which could be a major confrontation.

The content of Netanyahu’s speech was “not based on secret information … it’s not based on military intelligence … it’s based on public reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency … anybody can read them… they’re online.”

The UN’s nuclear watchdog’s quarterly says:

  • Iran has doubled the number of uranium enrichment machines it has at its bunker in Fordo – from 1,064 in May to 2,140
  • But it was unsure what the ultimate use of the machines would be, or when they would be turned on
  • The report also says Iran produced nearly 190kg of higher-grade enriched uranium since 2010 – up from 145kg in May
  • It also noted much of that high-grade uranium had been used for reactor fuel plates – or in other words, for energy purposes
  • And since reactor fuel plates are difficult to reuse as warhead material, Iran is probably still a long way off the higher-enriched uranium it will need for weapons

    I think Netanyahu is a very effective communicator but in the last couple of weeks he has made a lot of miscalculations. One of the first was to go very aggressively against Obama … that backfired on him and the second was the theatrics at the UN … technically, analytically the entire presentation was a mess but I think his broader objective was to normalise the conversation about war.

    – Trita Parsi, founder of the National Iranian American Council

In a response to the speech, Iran’s UN mission said Israel had made “baseless and absurd allegations against its exclusively peaceful nuclear program.” It also said Israel “on a daily basis, threatens countries in the region, particularly my country [with] military attack.”

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is strong enough to defend itself and reserves its full right to retaliate with full force against any attack,” the Iranian mission said in a written statement.

So, did the rhetoric match the facts? How big of a threat is Israel’s nuclear programme? And what if Iran crosses Netanyahu’s ‘red line’? Will Israel attack Iran?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Kamahl Santamaria, speaks to guests: Dr Raanan Gissin, a senior advisor to the former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon; Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at Tehran University and an expert on Iranian foreign policy; and Trita Parsi, the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council and also author of the book Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States.

“I speak about it now because the hour is getting late, very late. I speak about it now because the Iranian nuclear calendar doesn’t take time out for anyone or for anything. I speak about it now because when it comes to the survival of my country, it’s not only my right to speak; it’s my duty to speak.

And I believe that this is the duty of every responsible leader who wants to preserve world peace. For nearly a decade, the international community has tried to stop the Iranian nuclear program with diplomacy. That hasn’t worked. Iran uses diplomatic negotiations as a means to buy time to advance its nuclear program.”

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister