NEW YORK — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday urged the world not to believe the warm words of the new president of Iran — calling him a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” set on building a nuclear bomb.
Netanyahu, in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, said that the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, had in previous jobs masterminded a strategy for an Iranian bomb behind a “smokescreen of diplomatic engagement and very soothing rhetoric.”
Rouhani has said that Iran has no designs on a nuclear weapon. The West suspects, and Israel insists, that it does. Rouhani has struck a more moderate tone than his hardline predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but Netanyahu expressed deep skepticism, calling it “a ruse, a ploy.”
“Now I know: Rouhani doesn’t sound like Ahmadinejad,” the Israeli prime minister said. “But when it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the only difference between them is this: Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf’s clothing. Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A wolf who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community.”
In a reference to the seed material for enriching uranium, a critical step for building a bomb, Netanyahu said: “Rouhani thinks he can have his yellowcake and eat it, too.”
He vowed: “Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone. Yet in standing alone, Israel will know that we will be defending many, many others.”
President Barack Obama last Friday placed a call to Rouhani, the first direct conversation between the leaders of the United States and Iran in 34 years. And Obama directed Secretary of State John Kerry to work with European allies, China and Russia to pursue a deal with Iran on the nuclear ambitions.
Netanyahu met with Obama on Monday in the Oval Office. He encouraged Obama to maintain economic sanctions against Iran, and strengthen them if Iran keeps pursuing nuclear capability during talks with the West.
In his speech to the U.N., Netanyahu said that the lesson of the 20th century was that a fanatical regime must not be left to gain unchecked power.
“Sooner or later, its appetite for aggression knows no bounds. That’s the central lesson of the 20th century,” he said. “The world may have forgotten this lesson. The Jewish people have not. Iran’s fanaticism is not bluster. It’s real. This fanatic regime must never be allowed to arm itself with nuclear weapons.”