Israel, Iran square off at UN

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded Thursday that the international community impose a red line on Iran to prevent it from enriching enough uranium for a nuclear bomb.

“The hour is late, very late,” Netanyahu said, alleging Iran was already 70% of the way through the process of enriching enough uranium to fuel a bomb, and must be prevented from reaching the 90% level.

The Israeli leader even used the world stage at the UN to present a cardboard diagram of a bomb with different levels on it, drawing a thick red line across it with a marker pen for dramatic effect.

“Faced with a clear red line Iran will back down,” he said, insisting in a address to the United Nations General Assembly that imposing an ultimatum on Tehran would not provoke war but help prevent it.

Israel has warned that it could launch military action against Iran in order to prevent it reaching a certain nuclear threshold, and has urged the international community to force Tehran to abandon its atomic quest.

Iran denies it is building a nuclear weapon and has dismissed the Israeli threat.

US President Barack Obama vowed in his address to the United Nations on Tuesday that he would prevent Iran from getting the bomb but his administration has repeatedly rejected imposing a red line on Tehran.

With relations between Netanyahu and Obama already viewed as frosty, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta earlier this month highlighted the policy split further when he rejected Israel’s “red lines” outright.

“The fact is, look, presidents of the United States, prime ministers of Israel or any other country – leaders of these countries don’t have, you know, a bunch of little red lines that determine their decisions,” Panetta said.

“What they have are facts that are presented to them about what a country is up to, and then they weigh what kind of action is needed to be taken in order to deal with that situation,” he told Foreign Policy magazine.

“I mean, that’s the real world. Red lines are kind of political arguments that are used to try to put people in a corner.”

The Iranian government, reacting to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations, demanded that Jerusalem open its own nuclear installations to inspection before telling Tehran do so.

Using the U.N.’s “right of reply,” Iran’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Eshagh al Habib, told the General Assembly the Israeli prime minister “has admitted to the possession of nuclear weapons which has been repeatedly stated by the 120 members of the Non-Aligned Movement ‘poses a serious and continuing threat to the security of states in the region.

“Instead of making baseless allegations,” he said, “this regime has ignored repeated calls by the international community to accede promptly and without any conditions to the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapons party and place all its nuclear-related facilities under the International Atomic Energy Agency verification system. … The international community should continue to exert the utmost pressure on this regime.”

The Iranians have long claimed to be sponsoring a movement to free the Middle East of any atomic weapons.

Israel, its conventional forces vastly outnumbered by neighboring Arabs, has long seen its nuclear stockpile as an equalizer should a new war erupt in the region.

Published reports claim Jerusalem has manufactured more than 200 low-yield nuclear warheads that have been stockpiled in a desert facility in the Negev.

The nuclear facility, near the hamlet of Dimona, has had sporadic visits by U.N. inspectors, but nothing unusual has ever been uncovered.

Late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein tried unsuccessfully to rocket bomb the Dimona facility in the 1991 Gulf War.

Today, the Dimona base is protected by the Israeli Iron Dome anti-missile system.

A group of Israeli diplomats sat stone-faced throughout the Iranian rebuttal, deciding not to challenge it.

The U.S.-U.N. mission did not attend the late-night General Assembly session. – AFP/WND