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Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu warns that Iran risks conflict

By GRIFF WITTE and MICHAEL BIRNBAUM
The Washington Post

February 18. 2018 9:21PM
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the 54th Munich Security Conference in Munich on Sunday. Netanyahu and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif bickered on Sunday at the 54th Munich Security Conference. (Luo Huanhuan/Xinhua/Sipa USA/TNS)



MUNICH — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday issued a stark warning to Iran, saying his nation was prepared to go to war if the Iranians continue to test Israeli red lines in Syria.

Brandishing what he said was a fragment of an Iranian drone shot down over Israeli territory last week, Netanyahu cited Iran’s efforts to “colonize” Syria with a permanent military base and use the war-ravaged nation as a launch pad for operations in Israel.

“Israel will not allow Iran’s regime to put the noose of terror around our neck,” he said. “We will act without hesitation to defend ourselves. And we will act, if necessary, not only against Iranian proxies that are attacking us but against Iran itself.”

The warning came in a widely anticipated speech Netanyahu delivered to the Munich Security Conference, the world’s most prominent gathering of its type. The saber-rattling address was followed later Sunday with a speech by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“Mr. Zarif, do you recognize it?” Netanyahu asked as he held the drone fragment aloft. “You should. It’s yours. You can take back with you a message to the tyrants of Tehran: Do not test Israel’s resolve.”

In his own speech, Zarif dismissed Netanyahu’s address as a “cartoonish circus.”

The Iranian foreign minister cited “almost daily incursions into Syrian airspace” by Israeli aircraft, its strikes against targets in Lebanon and its occupation of Palestinian lands.

“Israel uses aggression as a policy against its neighbors,” he said. He suggested that Netanyahu was deliberately raising tensions as a way to distract from his troubles at home.

Netanyahu has for years been making dire predictions about the potential for war with Iran, a regional power that he on Saturday described as “the greatest threat to our world.”

But the dynamic is different now: Netanyahu is weakened domestically, with police investigators recommending he should be charged with corruption. He also feels emboldened abroad, as he finds new allies in President Donald Trump’s United States and in an Arab world that has been increasingly willing to put aside its longtime enmity toward Israel to oppose mutual Iranian rival.

The latest escalation of Middle East tensions began last weekend when Israel shot down an Iranian drone that had crossed into its airspace. Israel carried out airstrikes in Syria in retaliation for the incursion, but one of its F-16 fighter jets crashed while under fire.

The dueling speeches by Netanyahu and Zarif came with the fate of a landmark 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and the world’s biggest powers hanging in the balance.

Citing Munich’s history as the setting for an infamous deal with Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II, Netanyahu also used the speech to bash the Iranian nuclear accord, saying it had “unleashed a dangerous Iranian tiger in our region and beyond.”

The future of the deal, which was negotiated during the Obama administration, has been cast into doubt by Trump, who has said it must either be revamped or scrapped.

Under the agreement, Iran agreed to end the nuclear activities that the world powers considered most troubling in exchange for an end to crippling sanctions.


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