Photo Credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to members of the Christian media at Israel Museum

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Sunday night in an address to members of the Christian media that Iran is “colonizing” Syria in order to “turn it into a military base for war against Israel.”

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In the same address, he praised U.S. President Donald Trump for unparalleled courage in confronting the “terrorist regime” of the Islamic Republic in a way that few other world leaders have dared.

Netanyahu had urged the world in a video statement earlier Sunday to support U.S. President Donald Trump in his “courageous” stance against Iran.

“He could have kicked the can forward, he could have said, ‘It’s not going to happen on my watch so why should I deal with it?’” Netanyahu said in the address to the primarily right-wing group of 100 members of Christian media at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. “But he said no. It’s the duty of leaders and perhaps most difficult duty of leaders to ward off danger before it becomes apparent.”

Netanyahu had had similar words of praise in his brief video statement earlier in the day backing Trump’s decision. The American leader had triggered a Congressional legislative review on Friday by refusing to certify Iran was in compliance with the 2015 JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) nuclear deal with the U.S. and five world powers.

The prime minister also told the conference of Christian journalists they should publicize the brutality with which their fellow Christians are being tortured by the Iranian government, and encouraged them to try to help them.

Netanyahu also urged his audience to consider the growth of Iran’s power, and what it could mean for the region and the world. “There’s the nuclear threat of a deal that will lead to a nuclear Iran, and also an aggressive Iran that is spreading terror throughout this region,” Netanyahu told the group. “They’re devouring the nations one after another. . . They’re in Yemen, they’re in Iraq where they are squeezing the Kurds, and they’re in Syria where they are colonizing Syria to turn it into military base for a war against Israel,” he said.

Following is the full text of the prime minister’s remarks at the Christian Media Summit:

“I want to welcome you all to Jerusalem, the eternal united capital of the Jewish people.

You know, you are joining us as we celebrate 50 years since the Holy City was liberated and united; 50 years of religious freedom for all. You know that because you walk around, you go to the holy sites, you go to the churches, others go to the mosques, and you know this is a free city.

I want you also to join us in looking forward to the day when the embassies of all your countries move to Jerusalem.

Israel has no better friends – I mean that – no better friends in the world than the Christian communities around the world. And Israel is the one country in a vast region where Christians not only survive, they thrive.

You know the truth about Israel’s history and the truth about our commitment to freedom. Freedom is under a challenge all the time, and I think it scored a big victory the other day. I want to thank President Trump for his courageous speech outlining a new course against Iran, the enemy of our free civilization.

Iran is a threat to the entire world, but today I want to focus on Iran’s war against Christians. As you all know, Christians are brutally persecuted in the Islamic Republic. Pastors are jailed for no reason, no reason other than for being Christian leaders. Christians have been lashed. You hear this? Christians have been lashed for sipping wine during prayer services; Christians have been brutally tortured for doing nothing more than practicing their faith.

Now, some world leaders are willing to ignore this repression and seek to appease Iran, but I am not one of them.

I think that how a country treats religious minorities is a very good indicator of how it will treat its other citizens and its neighbors. So today I have a simple request for the media outlets in this room: Dedicate this week to highlighting the plight of the countless Christians suffering under Iran; Profile the brave Christian leaders jailed for practicing their faith; Sit with the families of the school teachers jailed for years merely for converting to Christianity; Call out the lie and the lies of President Rouhani, who promised in 2013 that all religions would, quote, feel justice in Iran, while so many Christians live there in constant terror.

And I want to thank you for what you’re doing, taking your part and doing your part to stand up for religious freedom. Thank you for highlighting the danger of the terrorist regime in Iran. Thank you for telling the truth about Israel’s pluralistic democracy. Thank you for standing with Israel. We all are deeply grateful. Thank you.”

Question:
“Good to see you, my friend. The influence of this Christian media group is much greater than ABC, NBC and CBS combined, and there’s no fake news here. The question I want to ask you is concerning Iran. Tell us the influence that they’re having with the terror, with Hamas, with Hezbollah, and in Syria, in light of the President’s courageous stand.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu:
“Well, I think there are two issues that the President was concerned with and we’re all concerned with, and coincidentally, on this Israel and the leading Arab states see eye to eye. And I said today in interviews on American television, I said, you know, when Israel and the main Arab countries see eye to eye, you should pay attention, because something important is happening. We’re here. We know what we see. Here’s what we see: We see two great dangers emanating from Iran.

The first danger is the danger of a nuclear armed Iran, which is virtually guaranteed if this agreement is not changed or scrapped. Because that’s where it’s leading. It’s leading not merely to Iran’s capability to have an atomic weapon, one bomb. It virtually opens up the field so they can have within a decade 100 bombs, a vast nuclear arsenal. And this is Iran, which is, its economy is 30 times the size of North Korea. So you can imagine the world’s foremost terrorist regime armed with an arsenal of nuclear weapons. Is that going to produce peace? Is that going to produce progress? Because people said, well, if Iran signs this deal, two years ago, three years ago, when they were negotiating this deal and they were arguing for it. They said, once Iran signs this deal, then, they said, it would join the community of nations.

So Iran received the first installment of about 50 billion dollars coming in to its coffers, and what did they do? They didn’t join the community of nations. They’re devouring the nations one after the other. They’re in Yemen firing rockets deep into Saudi Arabia; they’re in Iraq killing people, now squeezing the Kurds; they’re in Syria, colonizing Syria and the intent to turn Syria into a military base for their war of destruction against Israel.

Well, clearly we will not tolerate it, and we will act against any threats to our security and I think people understand that we back this up with words, with these words, with deeds. I think people know that. But I think the fact the President Trump focused the world’s attention on Iran’s dual threat – the nuclear threat of a deal that unless challenged would lead to a nuclear Iran, and the conventional threat of an Iran, an aggressive Iran that is spreading terrorism and aggression throughout this region. And I think that the resoluteness with which he put forward this case yesterday made a big impression. I tell you on who it made a big impression. It made a big impression on America’s allies here, and it made a big impression on Iran. They should be worried. Justly so.”

Question:
“Mr. Prime Minister, Chris Mitchell, Bureau Chief for CBN News. And I know I speak for the Christian media here, thank you for making this summit possible.

As a follow up to Iran, I just came back from Kurdistan and many people I saw firsthand the growing influence of the Shiite militias and the growing influence of Iran. And they’re concerned about a Shiite arc going from Tehran all the way to the Mediterranean. Can you address their concerns? The decision by the Trump Administration to decertify the Iranian nuclear deal and the referendum for independence that was just a few weeks ago.

And one follow-up question, Mr. Prime Minister, many people may not know that Israel sends relief teams, search and rescue teams to earthquake places like Mexico, the hurricanes in Houston and Florida. With all the problems facing Israel, why does Israel feel obligated to reach out with humanitarian aid to the nations?”

Prime Minister Netanyahu:
“Because we’re a light unto the nations. That’s the great fulfillment of that great prophecy, and in fact what Israel is doing. It’s doing it in places like Haiti or in the Philippines or in Mexico. I mean, you should hear what the people in Mexico said about Israel. I recently spoke to President Peña Nieto from Mexico, he called me up, and he said I want you to know how grateful the people of Mexico are. And you saw that in the Mexican media, they just love Israel.

I was there between two earthquakes, just in the stitch of time, a few days, and I saw how receptive and how warm the people of Mexico were to Israel before the earthquake. And then you know they saw this mission that came, taking some risk, considerable risk, and going through the rubble, and trying their best to salvage whatever could be salvaged, and the people really warmed up to that.

And you see that elsewhere, in many places around the world. You see it in Tibet, the same thing. Our mission in Mexico was the last, the first to come and the last to leave. Our mission in Nepal was the second largest mission in the world. The first was India – it’s closer, and, you know, bigger. But ours was the second largest in the world. And the people say, well, what do you do? What is it that you get out of it? And the answer is we’re not getting out of it anything, we’re fulfilling our deepest values – Israel is a light unto the nations.

Now you talk about those who want to extinguish that light. Iran. Yes it wants to build a Shiite arc, to create – it’s working on it, you know – which is Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon. I said in the UN a few weeks ago that what they want from Tehran to Tartus, from Iran to the Mediterranean, they want this Shiite arc, to colonize it and control it, and everyone is concerned. All the countries, except Assad I think, everybody is really concerned and wants to stop it, because this is an act of unadulterated aggression.

They’re trying to import… get this, they’re trying to import Shiite militias that are now trying to choke the Kurds in Kirkuk, Shiite militias – Afghans, Pakistanis under Iranian command, and they want to bring them also right next to the Golan Heights. Well, this is colonization of the worst kind. And this is intimidation and subjugation of the worst kind. But that’s what Iran is about, so obviously we all sympathize with the Kurds, we understand this, and we are absolutely determined to defend ourselves against this aggression.”

Question:
“Mr. Prime Minister, it’s on the books now that I’ll see you on Tuesday for your interview with Mike Huckabee that’s there at the Knesset, but he’s going to ask you about the moving of the…”

Prime Minister Netanyahu:
“Are you giving me a promo?”

Question:
“I’m going to give you a heads up on what he is going to ask you. But it’s no secret that your relationship with our former president Obama was a bit different. How is it going with Trump now? That’s what we’re concerned about. How is your relationship with Donald Trump going now?”

Prime Minister Netanyahu:
“Our relationship is fine, it’s excellent actually, and there’s, I think, a sense of warmth and an instinctive understanding on many important things. Now mind you, I want you to put this also in perspective. Yes I had some differences , like on Iran and a few other things, with President Obama, but it didn’t really alter the solidity of the American-Israeli alliance. We also signed an MoU that I appreciate, I don’t forget, it was important. So I think there is a basic alliance there that transcends differences that we may have over particular issues.

But the issue of Iran wasn’t just another issue. The issue of Iran is existential for us. And I felt compelled to take our case to the American Congress because that deal, so-called deal, was a direct threat to our future, to our existence. I think there’s been a change with regard to this central issue, because, because I think President Trump correctly identifies that Iran is not the solution but perhaps the problem in the Middle East. The problem. The source of so much aggression, so much terror and so much misery.

And he wants to… He took a very courageous step yesterday, because what he did was, he could have kicked the can forward, he could have said, well it’s not going to happen on my watch, so why should I deal with it. You know, Iran will become a nuclear power with a nuclear arsenal, if we just let the deal go through but it won’t happen on my watch. But he said, no, it’s the duty of leaders, and it’s perhaps the most difficult duty of leaders, to ward off danger before it becomes apparent to everyone, because when it becomes apparent to everyone, it may be too late.

So I really appreciate what he did yesterday on this point, which is obviously very important for Israel, but also I think very important for the United States and for the future of the world. The relationship is good. I want to thank you all for your continued support for the State of Israel. I think when you and your readers and viewers and listeners, when they look at the Middle East and they see the forces that are aligned against the values we hold dear, you see a beacon of light, a towering beacon of light. Israel is not that big a country, you know that. It’s a small country, but it’s a gigantic country, because we stand on the shoulders of giants: the giants of the bible, the giants of Jewish history, the people who gave us our deepest values, which we share and which we cherish.

I want to thank you for your support.

Thank you very much. Thank you all.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.