“The deadline for attaining this goal is getting extremely close,” Netanyahu said, adding, “deterrence by itself may not be sufficient. Deterrence must now be reinforced with prevention — immediate and effective prevention. . . . Time is running out.”
Sixteen years later, after tirelessly raising the alarm about Iran’s nuclear program, Netanyahu seems to have finally rallied the West to his cause, successfully thrusting Tehran’s nuclear ambitions to the top of the international agenda. And in his second term as prime minister, he faces what could prove to be the most critical decision of his career, weighing whether to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, possibly over the objections of his staunchest ally in Washington.
Israel’s next moves, as international sanctions on Iran gather steam, are expected to be the focus of Netanyahu’s planned meeting Monday with President Obama at the White House.
While Defense Minister Ehud Barak has warned that Iran’s nuclear program could soon enter a “zone of immunity” in which its facilities would be protected underground from military strikes, aides and analysts familiar with Netanyahu’s thinking say he views the problem in more fundamental terms.
They say the prime minister approaches the Iranian challenge with a sense of history and a profound conviction that he is fighting to prevent another Holocaust, a modern-day threat of annihilation against the Jewish state.
Calls by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the dissolution of Israel, his denial of the Holocaust, and his support for militant groups sworn to Israel’s destruction have led Netanyahu to depict him as another Hitler.
“It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany, and it’s racing to arm itself with atomic bombs,” Netanyahu, then the leader of the opposition, told a gathering of Jewish leaders in Los Angeles in 2006.
Addressing a parliamentary session last month marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Netanyahu drew a direct parallel. “Seventy years after the Holocaust, many in the world are silent in the face of Iran’s pledges to wipe Israel off the face of the earth,” he said. “This is a day in which the leaders of the world must commit not to allow another genocide.”
Iran scholars have disputed Netanyahu’s characterization of the Iranian threat, saying Ahmadinejad was misquoted in threatening to “
wipe Israel off the map.” They say that Tehran’s aim is actually the collapse of the Israeli government and its replacement by Palestinian rule, rather than a new genocide against the Israeli people. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly stressed this point, although he also has made clear that he is implacably opposed to Zionism and the existence of the Israeli state.