In an exclusive interview to CNN’s Piers Morgan last Thursday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke of his decision to reconsider Israel’s nuclear power plants, of the recent events in the Middle East and how they may affect Israel, and of the chances for peace with the Palestinian Authority.
Some of Netanyahu’s comments on his decision to reconsider the nuclear plants were released by CNN prior to the interview being aired.
“[The situation in Japan] certainly caused me to reconsider the projects of building civil nuclear power plants,” said Netanyahu. “I have to tell you I was a lot more enthusiastic about it than I am now. In fact, you'd have to give me a very good argument to do it. And fortunately we found natural gas… So, I think we'll go for the gas. I think we'll skip the nuclear.”
Netanyahu also addressed the uprisings in the Middle East, and when asked by Morgan “what does this mean for Israel?” he replied: “You are looking at this and two places cheered what was happening in Cairo. One was Washington, and its allies. The other one was Tehran, and its allies. You know they weren't seeking the same outcome. You know there is a fundamentally different outcome that each was seeking. We had all hoped, and we still hope, that you will have a democratic transformation. That the, you know, the Google kids, the Facebook kids, you will create a Google heaven and a Facebook paradise, and all these people will come to power. That is obviously what people in the West, and people in free societies would like to see. It is not clear that that would happen.”
He admitted that the nightmare scenario for him would be “That you get another Iran. Five years ago in Lebanon a million Lebanese, that is the equivalent to 20 million Egyptians, walked in the streets of Beirut, chanting for freedom, chanting for secular reformist, a liberal Lebanese state. Five years later Lebanon is controlled by Hizbullah, which is controlled by Iran. That is what we don't want to see. We don't want to see this stark medievalism that represses women, that crushes the rights of people, that holds us back a millennia. That fosters violence. That does everything that we abhor. That it would take over.”
When asked about whether he was sad to see former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak leave office, Netanyahu said that “Egypt under Sadat, and then under Mubarak, kept the peace and I think that is something extraordinary valuable. And I think the first order of the day is to make sure that any future government in Egypt maintains the peace. The fact that we had these 30 years with Egypt, 20 years with Jordan, of a real peace, is something that I can appreciate.”
Netanyahu also spoke of the situation in Libya, and said that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi “is no friend of Israel. He's not friend of the Jewish people. And I think his people can see now, he's no friend of the Libyan people. This is a man who helped explode civilian airlines in the skies. He's fostered terrorism. He's done a lot of terrible things. So I don't think anybody would be sorry to see him go. I wouldn't.”
Regarding the situation in Iran, Netanyahu said: “I was elected the first time about 15 years ago. And I went to speak before the joint session of the U.S. Congress. And I said that the single greatest threat facing the world, and my own country, was the arming of Iran with nuclear weapons. And since then what I have been trying to do is alert the world and the leaders of the world that it is not merely our problem, that it is their problem. Because Iran today is in Afghanistan, it is in Iraq, it has gotten control of Lebanon.”
He added that Iran is working to acquire nuclear weapons and that it is “getting a lot closer” to a situation where it indeed possesses such weapons. He noted that the situation is not like it was with Iraq, where it was unclear whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and explained that with Iran it is well-known. “Ahmadinejad is taking people on guided tours of these centrifuge halls,” said Netanyahu.
Morgan then asked Netanyahu what should be the answer to the Iranian problem, and Netanyahu replied: “One of the things that we are telling people is that sanctions by themselves are not going to be enough. That the only thing that will work is if Iran knew that if sanctions fail there will be a credible military option…I'm talking about a credible military action, lead preferably by the United States. It is not that complicated. It could be done. It is not easy, but it is not impossible.”
When asked if Israel possesses nuclear weapons, Netanyahu noted that “we have a long-standing policy that we won't be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East and that hasn't changed,” and added that “we don't pose a threat to anyone. We don't call for anyone's annihilation. We don't foster terrorism. We don't threaten to obliterate countries with nuclear weapons but we are threatened with all these threats.”
Netanyahu also addressed the decision to build 500 new housing units in Judea and Samaria, which as announced following the brutal murder of the Fogel family in Itamar, and explained the reasoning behind the decision.
“I wanted to send three messages,” said Netanyahu. “The first one I told you about, that is a message of restraint to the settlers. The second is a message to the terrorists. I was telling them, I know you think you're going to uproot us with this savagery, with the violence, with terror. You're not going to uproot us. So you kill us, you want to drive us into the sea, that's not going to happen. You only way we'll have a settlement is through peaceful negotiations. So you kill, we'll build. But coincidentally I chose to build in the large populated areas that are going to stay in Israel anyway. And not 500 new settlements but 500 apartments, which is very different.
“And third, I wanted to send a message to the international community. I said to the international community that rushes to condemn Israel for every building that is built. You know, a Jew builds an apartment in the Jewish homeland. What a terrible crime. But they seldom go and condemn this kind of savagery without any ands, ifs and buts and I wanted that condemnation.”
In regards to the larger question of peace with the Palestinian Authority, Netanyahu said that “peace requires two to tango. I said to Abu Mazen who was flying around in the world – the Palestinian president - I said, don't fly around the world. You want to make peace? Ramallah, where you sit, is 10 minutes away from Jerusalem where we're sitting right now. I'm willing to come to you. You can come here. Let's sit down, shut the room, you know, basically sit down until smoke comes out. That's the way you make peace. That's how we made peace with Egypt. That's how we made peace with Jordan.”
He noted that the reason this is not happing is that “the Palestinian society is split into two –those who are openly calling for Israel's destruction like Hamas, and those who are not calling openly for Israel's destruction but refuse to confront those who do. And that's the Palestinian Authority. I think they're timid, I think they're afraid to actually stand up to these killers. And I think that they're afraid, maybe for their own sake, for their own political hides, sometimes for their own physical safety. And they don't take that necessary plunge.”