Iran Nuclear NewsBinyamin Netanyahu warns of Iranian nuclear threat

Binyamin Netanyahu warns of Iranian nuclear threat

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ImageThe Times: Israel was set for the return to power of Binyamin Netanyahu after the Likud leader was invited to form a coalition government yesterday.

The Times

James Hider in Jerusalem

ImageIsrael was set for the return to power of Binyamin Netanyahu after the Likud leader was invited to form a coalition government yesterday.

Immediately after he was invited to become the next prime minister by President Peres, Mr Netanyahu lost no time in restating his warnings about a nuclear-armed Iran, calling it the greatest existential threat faced by Israel since its creation. His words came a day after the UN announced that Tehran had acquired sufficient uranium to build a nuclear bomb — a “red line” development Israel has said it will not tolerate.

Likud came second in last week’s elections to the Kadima party, led by Tzipi Livni, but Mr Netanyahu’s chances of forming a government are significantly greater. However, he may find himself at the head of a narrow, far-right coalition that is at war with itself and at loggerheads with the US.

His main partner will be the hardline nationalist party Yisraeil Beitenu, led by Moldovan Avigdor Lieberman. With the support of the remaining parties on the right — the ultra-Orthodox and settler factions — the new coalition will be able to count on 65 MPs in the 120-seat Knesset.

As well as his willingness to confront Iran over its nuclear ambitions Mr Netanyahu opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, an issue on which the US Government will want to make progress.

George Mitchell, the peace envoy appointed by President Obama almost as soon as he took office, fired a warning shot across Mr Netanyahu’s bows, saying that Israel needed to pursue a political track with the Palestinians, not just an economic one — which is what Mr Netahyahu has proposed.

The Likud leader’s plan for an “economic peace” means that Israeli forces would keep security control of the West Bank and its borders and air space. Palestinians would police their own towns. Israelis would mount raids against militants deemed a threat.

In return Israel would build industrial centres and attempt to bolster the Palestinian economy in an effort to turn the population away from radicalism. It is unlikely that any Palestinian leadership could accept such terms and retain any credibility, especially with support for Hamas on the rise.

Egyptian-brokered truce talks with the Islamic group to avoid a repeat of last months’ devastating war in Gaza have broken down, and both sides have carried on with sporadic attacks across the border. Mr Netanyahu and Mr Lieberman have said that they would remove Hamas by whatever means necessary once in office.

The Israeli Right fears that creating a Palestinian state would allow Hamas to take over the West Bank as it did Gaza and put all Israel’s central cities within range of its rockets.

Mr Netanyahu has accused Hamas of being Iranian proxies, intent on squeezing the Jewish state between Tehran-controlled enclaves. “Iran is developing nuclear weapons and poses the greatest threat to our existence since the war of independence. Iran’s terror wings surround us from the north and south,” he said in reference to Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, as he accepted the nomination to form a government.

Mr Lieberman has also spoken of the need to prevent Iran from going nuclear. Many fear his bullish approach would set Israel — which has a covert nuclear stockpile — on track for an imminent attack on Iran.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said on Thursday that it had discovered an additional 209 kilograms of low-enriched uranium undeclared to inspectors, taking Tehran over the threshold of “nuclear breakout capability” of a ton of fissile material. UN officials cautioned that many practical obstacles to the production of a bomb remained, and inspectors reported that Iran had slowed down on building its uranium enrichment capacity, a possible goodwill gesture to Mr Obama. The news will increase Israeli calls to deal with Iran.

In return for supporting the Likud leader Mr Lieberman has reportedly asked for a senior Cabinet position. Mr Netanyahu will be wary of giving too much away to a man denounced by critics as a racist and who has angered Israel’s large Arab minority by insisting they take an oath of allegiance to the Jewish state. Mr Lieberman has also suggested giving away Arab areas of Israel in return for keeping Jewish settlement blocks in the West Bank.

Mr Netanyahu is loathe to rely on a narrow, hard-right majority, which he did when first elected in 1996. When he bowed to US pressure to relinquish control of part of the West Bank under the Oslo Accords, his Government collapsed. For that reason, in the 42 days he has to form a government Mr Netanyahu will be wooing Ms Livni and Kadima, the centre-right party, which won more seats than Likud but could not form a stable parliamentary alliance.

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