For 40 minutes at the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eloquently articulated the challenges posed to Israel and to the international community by Iran and by Islamist fanaticism. He warned of the growing danger that Iran, “unleashed and unmuzzled,” will constitute in the wake of its nuclear deal. And he castigated the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for “libeling” Israel, from the same podium 24 hours earlier, by falsely asserting that Israel was seeking to harm religious freedom on the Temple Mount, when it was Islamic extremists who were desecrating the site by “smuggling explosives” into Al-Aqsa Mosque.
But most dramatically, he rebuked the membership of the very institution where he was speaking — the United Nations — for tolerating Iran’s relentless threats to destroy the Jewish state and “rushing to embrace” the regime. “Seventy years after the murder of six million Jews, Iran’s rulers promise to destroy my country, murder my people. And the response from this body, the response from nearly every one of the governments represented here,” he charged furiously, “has been absolutely nothing. Utter silence. Deafening silence.”
And then Netanyahu paused, staring defiantly, reproachfully out into the hall, head nodding slightly. For 44 very long seconds. In silent rebuke. And in apparent mourning for international morality.
The pause, the extended silence, was the theatrical centerpiece of this year’s address. After his display of the Auschwitz architectural plans in 2009, and his presentation of a cartoon nuclear bomb in 2012, this was a prop-free gimmick, a wordless denunciation.
Like a biblical prophet, Netanyahu had come to warn, to chastise, and to indict.
As so often in recent years, he also used the occasion to deride the notion that Iran, under this regime, will abandon terrorism, rein in its rapacious regional intervention, or scale back its inter-continental ballistic missiles programs. Well-intentioned though it might have been, the nuclear deal will leave the Iranians “weeks” from a nuclear arsenal when its sunset clauses expire, he said bitterly. In the meantime, he asked, could anybody seriously believe that sanctions relief would “turn this rapacious tiger into a kitten?”
As in years past, too, he determinedly asserted his desire for a permanent peace with a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. By announcing that the Palestinians no longer regard themselves as bound by the Oslo accords and other agreements with Israel, Abbas, this year, had made it a little easier for Netanyahu to assert that Israel was sinned against rather than sinning when it comes to the peace deadlock.
What was most strikingly different this year was the prominence and weight he gave to his assault on the international community’s failed outlook, self-defeatingly skewed priorities, and mistreatment of Israel.
He urged the world to at least hold Iran to the terms of the nuclear deal, deeply flawed though they may be. He encouraged the UN to help advance peace with the Palestinians — not via biased resolutions but by backing direct, bilateral talks. He pleaded for the UN to end its decades of “obsessive” Israel bashing. He sounded like a man of convictions; he did not sound like a man expecting to be heeded.
Netanyahu is only too aware of how isolated he is.
It is unlikely anybody will even have seriously registered his pledge that “Israel will not allow Iran to break in, sneak in, or walk in to the nuclear weapons club,” and that “No one should question Israel’s determination to defend ourselves against those who would seek our destruction.”
Hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived in Syria in the last 10 days and will soon join government forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies in a major ground offensive backed by Russian air strikes, two Lebanese sources told Reuters.
“The (Russian) air strikes will in the near future be accompanied by ground advances by the Syrian army and its allies,” said one of the sources familiar with political and military developments in the conflict.
“It is possible that the coming land operations will be focused in the Idlib and Hama countryside,” the source added.
The two sources said the operation would be aimed at recapturing territory lost by President Bashar al-Assad’s government to rebels.
It points to an emerging military alliance between Russia and Assad’s other main allies – Iran and Hezbollah – focused on recapturing areas of northwestern Syria that were seized by insurgents in rapid advances earlier this year.
“The vanguard of Iranian ground forces began arriving in Syria: soldiers and officers specifically to participate in this battle. They are not advisors … we mean hundreds with equipment and weapons. They will be followed by more,” the second source said. Iraqis would also take part in the operation, the source said.
Thus far, direct Iranian military support for Assad has come mostly in the form of military advisors. Iran has also mobilized Shi’ite militia fighters, including Iraqis and some Afghans, to fight alongside Syrian government forces.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, has been fighting alongside the Syrian army since early in the conflict.
The Russian air force began air strikes in Syria on Wednesday, targeting areas near the cities of Homs and Hama in the west of the country, where Assad’s forces are fighting an array of insurgent groups, though not Islamic State, which is based mostly in the north and east.
As he has for years, Netanyahu insisted that Israel would stop Iran from getting the bomb.
"Israel will not allow Iran to break in, to sneak in or to walk in to the nuclear weapons club," he declared in an allusion to his country's vow to strike at Iran militarily as a last resort.
Netanyahu listed what he said were disruptive actions by Iran even as the nuclear deal was being negotiated: shipping weapons and proxy fighters to Syria; arms to Yemen and to Hezbollah in Lebanon; sending top Iranian military officers to the divided Golan Heights region, and threatening to topple Jordan's government.
Describing the greatest danger to the world as "the coupling of militant Islam with nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said the Iran nuclear deal may well "prove to be the marriage certificate of that unholy union."
"Do any of you really believe that a theocratic Iran with sharper claws and sharper fangs will be more likely to change its stripes?" he asked. "Keep Iran's feet to the fire."
A senior European Union official has warned of rising anti-Semitism in Europe as attacks and threats against Jews continue in EU member countries.
European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said Thursday that “in the last couple of years you’ve seen this age-old monster come up again in Europe.”
Speaking before a conference on religious intolerance, he said, “This is unacceptable. I thought we knew better. I wouldn’t have thought it would be possible… but it’s happening again.”
The EU’s fundamental rights agency says that anti-Semitic stereotyping is a reality in many countries and that some EU political parties are openly anti-Semitic.
Timmermans said that “it’s a vital question for the future of Europe that our Jewish community feels at ease and completely at home.”
Europe’s top human rights watchdog also voiced concern Thursday at mounting racism and anti-Semitism in Germany, citing a wave of far-right, anti-Islam demonstrations at odds with the more recent image of a country ready to open its doors to hundreds of thousands of refugees.
French Jews in particular have moved to Israel in record numbers recently amid an uptick in anti-Semitic incidents, including an attack in a kosher supermarket by an Islamist gunman that left four shoppers dead. In 2014, nearly 7,000 French Jews left for Israel – more than three times the number in 2011.
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