Jerusalem • With a few words in a largely conciliatory speech to the United Nations, Iran’s new president took aim at an Israeli fear: that international pressure on the Iranian nuclear program could lead to scrutiny of Israel’s own secretive nuclear facilities.
Israel is widely believed to possess dozens of atomic weapons under a program dating back more than half a century. But in a major pillar of its national defense strategy, it neither confirms nor denies having these weapons — a policy known as “nuclear ambiguity” meant to keep its enemies off balance.
While Israel does not appear to face any immediate threat of global censure, the issue nonetheless could be embarrassing given Israel’s repeated calls for the world to crack down on what it says is an Iranian campaign to develop a nuclear bomb.
Iran, which denies the accusations, has long claimed to be the victim of a “double standard” when compared to Israel — yet it is a double standard the world appears to largely have accepted.
In his address to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, President Hasan Rouhani appeared to be referring to Israel when he told the world body that he is ready to resolve the nuclear standoff with the West.
“Iran’s nuclear program — and for that matter, that of all other countries — must pursue exclusively peaceful purposes,” he said.
Israel believes that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon — or at least is aiming to become a “threshold,” able to quickly assemble a bomb. Israel says a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a grave danger, citing Iranian calls for Israel’s destruction, its development of long-range missiles and its support for hostile Arab militant groups.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed Rouhani’s outreach to the West as a ploy to ease international sanctions and gain more time to build the bomb. He has urged the international community to increase, not ease, the pressure and to maintain a “credible” military threat until Iran dismantles its nuclear program.