‘I have Israel’s back’
WASHINGTON – Speaking before an audience of thousands at a gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) March 4, President Obama reiterated his support for Israel and vowed to defend the Jewish state against a nuclear Iran.
“Whenever an effort is made to de-legitimize the state of Israel, my administration has opposed them. So there should not be a shred of doubt by now: when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back,” said Obama, whose half-hour address came against the backdrop of Iran’s race to acquire a nuclear weapon, an action that places Israel and the West at risk of an attack. Estimates by various intelligence agencies and experts put Iran anywhere from months to a year away from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Obama’s address saying that he valued the President’s comments.
“I heard president Obama’s speech and I appreciate the fact that he repeated his position that Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and that all options are on the table. I also appreciate the fact that he said that on the Iranian issue, containment is not an option. But most of all, I appreciate that he said that Israel must be able to defend itself against any threat,” Netanyahu said.
“I will only use force when the time and circumstances demand it,” Obama said. “We all prefer to resolve this issue diplomatically. Having said that, Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States, just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs. I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say.”
Obama continued: “Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I’ve made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.” That includes, he said, “a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.”
Obama also said he would continue to support the peace treaty with Egypt and keep his commitments to the state of Israel. U.S. support for Israel, he said, “is bipartisan and that is how it should stay.”
It was Obama’s second consecutive year addressing the conference. On Monday (March 5), Obama is scheduled to host Netanyahu, the same day he is scheduled to address the assembly. Other speakers at the annual three-day AIPAC conference include Israeli President Shimon Peres, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, GOP presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum and numerous House and Senate leaders from both sides of the aisle.
Iranian officials last month forbade International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors from visiting Parchin, believed to be a key nuclear installation. A recent report on Iran’s nuclear program found that Iran is moving more quickly toward obtaining a nuclear weapon and disregarding the international community’s demands.
Netanyahu, commenting on the report, said, “The IAEA report constitutes additional proof that the State of Israel’s assessments are correct. Iran is continuing with its nuclear program without let-up; it is enriching uranium to a high level of 20 percent while grossly ignoring the demands of the international community.”
The United States and the European Union recently approved sanctions against Iran and are discussing additional measures. Iranian officials, meanwhile, contend that their nuclear program is strictly designed for peaceful civilian purposes.
Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism. Its officials have called for Israel’s destruction, denied the Holocaust and work through proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas to carry out attacks against Israel and, more recently, Israeli and Jewish targets in India, the country of Georgia and Thailand.