Netanyahu: Iran — Not Assad — Rules Syria

YERUSHALAYIM -

Iran — not President Bashar Assad — rules Syria, declared Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, as he continued his campaign against easing economic sanctions on Iran before it dismantles its nuclear weapons facilities.

“I don’t think Assad is in power. I think Iran is in power. Because basically, Syria has become an Iranian protectorate. Iran’s henchmen, Hizbullah, are doing the fighting for Assad, for his army. To the extent he has an army, it’s the Hizbullah Army,” Netanyahu told NBC News interviewer David Gregory on Sunday.

Netanyahu described to NBC his nuclear dominoes scenario, in which a U.S. decision to ease sanctions in return for superficial concessions from Iran would lead other countries to follow suit, enabling Tehran to preserve its nuclear weapons capacity.

“There are a lot of countries that are waiting for a signal, just waiting for a signal, to get rid of their sanctions regime,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu reiterated his argument that Iran does not need enriched uranium for a peaceful nuclear program.

There are 17 nuclear energy programs in the world, including Canada and Mexico, which do not have centrifuges or heavy water plutonium reactors, Netanyahu said.

“Here comes Iran and says, ‘I want civilian nuclear energy.’ I don’t know why, because they have energy with gas and oil coming out of their ears for generations. But suppose you believe them. Then you ask, ‘Why do you insist on mainlining a plutonium heavy water reactor and on maintaining centrifuges that can only be used for nuclear weapons?’ And the answer is because they want to have residual capability to make nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said.

The prime minister made his comments just after Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, on the same program, also stressed that it was premature to talk of rewarding Iran.

“The U.S. must see that Iran has removed its capacity to develop nuclear weapons before it could consider providing it with economic relief, Lew said.

Netanyahu will presumably hammer the message home to Secretary of State John Kerry as well, when he meets with him in Rome on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, on Monday, Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi accused Israel of trying to sabotage talks with Western powers by spreading disinformation about their contents.

“What has been reported [about the talks] is not accurate, and it falls under the realm of speculation. The source of this innuendo is the Zionists, who are among those who oppose a solution, and they are not interested in seeing these negotiations come to a positive outcome,” he told Iranian radio.