JERUSALEM— Israel’s leader is coming to the United States, hoping to counter media and diplomatic appearances by Iran’s new president that seemed to improve ties with the West.
Iran will top the agenda for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he visits the White House on Monday and addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. His visit follows what many commentators called a "charm offensive" in the United States last week by Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani, who is hailed by some in the West as a moderate.
Netanyahu is deeply concerned about eased tensions between Iran and the international community, saying Tehran is using talks to try to lessen crippling sanctions and to buy more time to build a nuclear weapon.
"I will tell the truth,” Netanyahu said at the airport in Tel Aviv, before departing for the U.S. He said that he will present “the facts…in the face of sweet-talk and the onslaught of smiles."
Rouhani told the U.N. General Assembly last week Iran’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and that atomic weapons contradict the country’s religious and ethical convictions.
But Israel sees Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to its existence, and it fears that the world is being fooled about Tehran’s intentions. Danny Ayalon, a former deputy foreign minister in the Netanyahu government, urged caution. “We should not just fall into the trap of this smokescreen,” said he.
He added that Iran’s actions will speak louder than words.
“Whether they are ready to bite the bullet in terms of stopping the centrifuges and enriching uranium, inspection, and everything that needs to be done in a transparent way, we have yet to see that. The proof is only in the doing, not in the talking,” said Ayalon.
Adding to the tension between the two countries, Israel announced that it has arrested an Iranian spy. The Shin Bet security service said the man was sent by Iran’s Revolutionary guards to set up businesses in Israel as a front for espionage.
The alleged spy was described as a Belgian citizen of Iranian origin who was caught with pictures he took of Israeli facilities and the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. According to the Shin Bet, he confessed, saying Iranian intelligence agents promised him $1 million.