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Netanyahu to Obama: 'Israel Must Reserve the Right to Defend Itself'

12:37 PM, Mar 5, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
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In the Oval Office this morning, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear that he'd take necessary action to defend his nation. "I think that above and beyond that are two principles, longstanding principles of American policy that you reiterated yesterday in your speech -- that Israel must have the ability always to defend itself by itself against any threat; and that when it comes to Israel's security, Israel has the right, the sovereign right to make its own decisions," Netanyahu said to Obama in a joint availability. 

I believe that's why you appreciate, Mr. President, that Israel must reserve the right to defend itself.

And after all, that's the very purpose of the Jewish state  -- to restore to the Jewish people control over our destiny.  And that's why my supreme responsibility as Prime Minister of Israel is to ensure that Israel remains the master of its fate.

Netanyahu did not, in this regard, directly reference what he was speaking about -- but it was surely in regards to defending Israel from an Iranian nuclear weapon. Obama addressed Iran briefly in this morning's availability: 

[W]e all know that it's unacceptable from Israel's perspective to have a country with a nuclear weapon that has called for the destruction of Israel.  But as I emphasized yesterday, it is profoundly in the United States' interest as well to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  We do not want to see a nuclear arms race in one of the most volatile regions in the world.  We do not want the possibility of a nuclear weapon falling into the hands of terrorists.  And we do not want a regime that has been a state sponsor of terrorism being able to feel that it can act even more aggressively or with impunity as a consequence of its nuclear power. 

 That's why we have worked so diligently to set up the most crippling sanctions ever with respect to Iran.  We do believe that there is still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution to this issue, but ultimately the Iranians' regime has to make a decision to move in that direction, a decision that they have not made thus far.

And as I emphasized, even as we will continue on the diplomatic front, we will continue to tighten pressure when it comes to sanctions, I reserve all options, and my policy here is not going to be one of containment.  My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.  And as I indicated yesterday in my speech, when I say all options are at the table, I mean it.

Having said that, I know that both the Prime Minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically.  We understand the costs of any military action.  And I want to assure both the American people and the Israeli people that we are in constant and close consultation.  I think the levels of coordination and consultation between our militaries and our intelligence not just on this issue but on a broad range of issues has been unprecedented.  And I intend to make sure that that continues during what will be a series of difficult months, I suspect, in 2012.

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