Netanyahu Speech Too 'Combative' for NYT

Influential newspaper warns it could be "disastrous" to exaggerate the Iranian threat.

Gil Ronen,

Netanyahu at the UN Assembly
Netanyahu at the UN Assembly
Flash 90

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's forceful speech in the United Nations Tuesday has caused the influential New York Times to push back on it in a prominent front page editorial.

The editorial called the speech "aggressive," and noted that Netanyahu used "sarcasm" and "combative words" to portray Iran's president Hassan Rouhani as a "charlatan."

While conceding that Israel, the US and the other powers involved in negotiations with Iran have "legitimate reasons to be wary" and "skeptical" regarding Iranian overtures," the newspaper warned that "it could be disastrous if Mr. Netanyahu and his supporters in Congress were so blinded by distrust of Iran that they exaggerate the threat, block President Obama from taking advantage of new diplomatic openings and sabotage the best chance to establish a new relationship since the 1979 Iranian revolution sent American-Iranian relations into the deep freeze."

The Times editorial admitted that Iran hid its nuclear program from United Nations inspectors for nearly 20 years, is enriching uranium to a level that would make it possible to produce bomb-grade nuclear material more quickly, and has been developing high-voltage detonators and building missiles that experts believe could only have nuclear weapons-related uses.

And yet, it insisted, Netanyahu has hinted so often of taking military action that "he seems eager for a fight." It noted, in particular, Netanyahu's statement that if it deemed that Iran was close to producing nuclear weapons, "Israel will have no choice but to defend itself.”

The Times advised President Barack Obama that his correct path of action, in order not torpedo the newly-warmed relations with Iran, is "working closely with Israel and helping Mr. Netanyahu see that sabotaging diplomacy, especially before Iran is tested, only makes having to use force more likely."

The government shutdown crisis has largely eclipsed coverage of Netanyahu's speech in the US media. There was some positive reaction to it as well, however. Writing in the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin opined: "What is so refreshing about Netanyahu is that he leaves no wiggle room, no equivocation. He will not, he is saying, be the prime minister on whose watch the Jewish state let down her guard."

Netanyahu did not rule out a diplomatic solution to the Iranian threat in his speech, but said that diplomacy can only work if the international community takes a firm stance. “We all want to give diplomacy with Iran a chance to succeed,” he said. “But when it comes to Iran, the greater the pressure, the greater the chance.”

“History has taught us that to prevent war tomorrow, we must be firm today,” he noted.

“Iran’s fanaticism is not bluster. It’s real. This fanatical regime must not be allowed to arm itself with nuclear weapons,” he warned, adding that "If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone."