Jerusalem • With the U.S. and other nations extending an increasingly warm welcome to the new president of Iran at the United Nations this week in New York, Israel finds itself in a bind: eager to unmask what it sees as an empty charm offensive, yet at risk of being seen as unwilling to consider the possibility of change in Tehran’s nuclear policy.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel expressed appreciation Tuesday for President Barack Obama’s statement in his U.N. address that “Iran’s conciliatory words will have to be matched by action that is transparent and verifiable.” Netanyahu said, “Israel would welcome a genuine diplomatic solution that truly dismantles Iran’s capacity to develop nuclear weapons.”
But he ordered Israel’s delegation to boycott the speech by new Iranian President Hasan Rouhani and accused Iran of offering only “cosmetic concessions.”
“We will not be fooled by half-measures that merely provide a smokescreen for Iran’s continual pursuit of nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu told reporters in Tel Aviv hours before Rouhani spoke before the General Assembly. “And the world should not be fooled, either.”
An internal Israeli government document, published Tuesday by The Washington Post and verified by an Israeli official, discounts Rouhani’s policy as “smile but enrich” and argues that Iran’s goal is for “minor concessions” that preserve its ability to “rush forward” to produce nuclear weapons.
The document and senior Israeli officials point to Tehran’s recent installation of advanced centrifuges and its continued denial of access to its nuclear facilities, as evidence that nothing has changed on the ground. Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian use.
Israeli analysts have begun to worry that Netanyahu’s hard-line approach will leave him isolated by allies who want to test Rouhani’s seriousness. They said Netanyahu faced the tricky challenge of raising concerns without sounding like a prophet of doom.
“He has to try and find the right balance between being cautious and warning the world that it should not fall for any of these ruses, but at the same time to be seen to give it a chance and to welcome it if it happens,” said Dan Gillerman, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.N.