On Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered his government ministers not to grant media interviews on political issues. The order came 24 hours after the phone conversation between President Barack Obama and his Iranian counter part Hassan Rouhani as the latter was leaving the U.S.
Netanyahu ordered all his government ministers to cancel all their interview dates on radio and television tonight and tomorrow, and to avoid any public response to any of Rouhani’s remarks, and, more specifically, to avoid comments on the one-on-one phone conversation.
Media commentators in Israel have suggested that the PM wishes to avoid any domestic embarrassments on the eve of his meeting with Obama, with his own coalition members issuing statements that contradict his own.
Though more likely, with the situation as delicate and unstable as it is, Netanyahu probably has a strategy in mind in how to deal with these latest developments, including Obama’s surprising linkage of dealing with Iranian nuclear weapons to Israel’s forced capitulation to the Palestinian Authority, Rouhani’s, apparently successful, charm offensive, and an unreliable ally that has further destabilized the Middle East; Netanyahu simply doesn’t want his strategy derailed or undermined by a misspoken comment.
This was the first direct conversation between an American and an Iranian leader in 34 years. The conversation lasted 15 minutes, at the end of which Obama blessed Rouhani in Iranian with the word “Khodahafez”, which translates into “God should be with you”.
Rouhani tweeted the conversation to his followers.
Netanyahu is set to meet with Obama before his speech at the UN this week.
A commentator on Iran’s Press TV suggested the possible rapprochement between Iran and the U.S. was Netanyahu and the Israeli lobby in the United States nervous, that “you could fry an egg on the top of Netanyahu’s head at any given time during the day right now. He is absolutely furious.”
The commentator, Mark Glenn, said Netanyahu is so frustrated because he “did not get his war in Syria, he is not going to get his war in Iran and now you have got an American administration talking reasonably with the Iranians, first time it has happened over thirty years.”
What Netanyahu actually said about Rouhani’s UN speech was that “as expected, this was a cynical speech that was full of hypocrisy. Rouhani spoke of human rights even as Iranian forces are participating in the large-scale slaughter of innocent civilians in Syria. He condemned terrorism even as the Iranian regime is using terrorism in dozens of countries around the world. He spoke of a nuclear program for civilian purposes even as an IAEA report determines that the program has military dimensions and when any rational person understands that Iran, one of the most oil-rich nations, is not investing capital in ballistic missiles and underground nuclear facilities in order to produce electricity.”
Netanyahu added that “it is no coincidence that the speech lacked both any practical proposal to stop Iran’s military nuclear program and any commitment to fulfill UN Security Council decisions,” warning that “this is exactly Iran’s strategy – to talk and play for time in order to advance its ability to achieve nuclear weapons. Rouhani knows this well. He bragged that, a decade ago, he had succeeded in misleading the West so that while Iran was holding talks, it simultaneously advanced its nuclear program.”
“The international community must test Iran not by its words but by its actions,” Netanyahu insisted.
The Israeli delegation left the hall during Rouhani’s speech, in order not to “grant legitimacy to a regime that does not recognize the existence of the Holocaust and which publicly declares its desire to wipe the State of Israel off the map.”
Responding to a note of protest from Treasury Minister Yair lapid, who faulted the PM for ordering Israel’s diplomats to leave, Netanyahu said: “As the Prime Minister of Israel, the state of the Jewish people, I could not allow the Israeli delegation to be part of a cynical public relations ploy by a regime that denies the Holocaust and calls for our destruction.”