WARSAW, POLAND - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was interviewed Thursday by VOA Persian in Warsaw, where he discussed Israel's outreach to Arab countries and the Iran nuclear deal. Netanyahu was in Warsaw in connection with a U.S.-led conference on Mideast security.
Watch: VOA Persian Interviews Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Question: After this conference, are you succeeding in getting the Europeans closer to your point of view and also President (Donald) Trump’s position on Iran? Is there any sign of emerging, let's say, unity?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Well, I think something very important happened here because you had really, for the first time, 60 foreign ministers from 60 countries, and several foreign ministers from Arab countries, and the prime minister of Israel, myself, first of all, meeting in an open room. Secondly, there was unity among the Arabs and Israelis that we have to counter the threat of the Iranian regime.
Everybody, including myself and the Arab foreign minister, said the people of Iran are not our enemy. They’re our friends. This regime that terrorizes us and subjugates them terrorizes them, too. That is a common threat that has to be dealt with, and I think that that message came out loud and clear. The Europeans, some of them agree, anyway, but if you're talking about the Western Europeans, they heard it. Did it affect them? I think it could not not affect them. It's impossible that they fail to see that Arabs and Israelis agree, and when Arabs and Israelis agree on something, you know, I think the Europeans should pay attention. Now, I know that people in Iran are paying attention, because I know that every time I speak to the Iranian public and these videos that I put out every few weeks, I get a tremendous response. So in fact, I think the Arab world is now almost fully aligned, Israel, fully aligned, United States fully aligned, and probably many people in Iran fully aligned. So maybe the Europeans are out of line, you know, out of alignment there. As we say in soccer, football, they’re offside.
Question: Mr. Prime Minister, with your permission, I’m going to come back to the outreach that you have done, the communication that you do with the Iranian people, but you mentioned unity with the Arab world or some Arab states. When did that happen? Because there was some reluctance before from the Arab countries to work with Israel.
Netanyahu: Well, there's a gradual process of normalization. In many ways we are achieving with them what we had with Iran. Before the theocratic revolution, we had great relations, we had trade, we had tourism, we had security ties and so on, even though we didn't have full diplomatic relations. That is what is happening with many parts, most parts of the Arab world right now. First, we have obviously open relations and peace agreements with Jordan and with Egypt, but the rest are gradually normalizing. I think the threat of aggression from the regime in Tehran brought us closer to the other, but once we got together and other things kicked in, like technology, water, agriculture, energy, health — all these things are of interest to the Arab governments, and I know they’re of interest to Iran, because I speak to the Iranian people about it. So it starts with security, but it moves on to how to make life better.
Question: If I may, I would like to talk to you about Iran's nuclear program. There seems to be a strong difference of opinion between Israel and the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). You insist that Iran still has some hidden sites. The IAEA says that all the sites have been verified, inspected, and Iran is in compliance. Who is right here, and why is there such a big difference?
Netanyahu: “Well, my concern is not that Iran violates the deal. My concern is that Iran keeps the deal. I think it’s a horrible deal, because I think it paves the way to the nuclear arsenal. ... Iran got billions and billions of dollars for (accepting the deal). Where did the money go? It didn’t go to hospitals, it didn’t go into water purification sites, it didn't go into schools, it didn't go into agriculture. It went into – I’ll tell you where it went: Because of this deal, OK, it went into the Houthis, it went into Hezbollah. It went into Iraq, it went into Syria for these Shiite militias. It didn't go to the people of Iran. So, you know, I think this is horrible. ... Israel is flourishing. It's growing because we have an open and robust economy. Iran, that could be the success story, in many ways, of this part of the world. Iran is barely drinking water. You know, people have enormous cost of living, enormous deprivations. Why? Because this regime doesn't care about the people. It either takes the money for itself or it takes it for foreign aggression, and obviously the Arabs and Israelis unite against this aggression primarily aimed at the Arab world — it’s first aimed at Muslims. And, you know, it's an aggression of the worst sort, but the aggression is also directed inside against the people of Iran themselves. And when they go and protest, you know, they're immediately hit by the Basij and so on. But people should ask a simple question. The deal produced megabucks, enormous, a cornucopia of riches. Where is it? Where's the money? Why are the people of Iran suffering? Because this regime is squandering that money on foreign aggression.
Question: And you mentioned also Hezbollah. I wanted to ask you about Iran’s other proxies also in the region. Do you think that the U.S. sanctions on these proxies, because of the money that is coming, are they going to decrease their operations against Israel once the money starts drying?
Netanyahu: Well, the money is drying out. We can see that. The deprivation of the money means that they have to cut back both for Hezbollah, the Houthis and Hamas — the "three H's" — but also in Syria they’re cutting back because they don't have it. ... They're still giving (to) their various proxies and so on, but ... they just have less to give.
Question: Now on Syria, Israel is hitting Iranian targets in Syria. Has this been very successful as a military operation and aren’t you at a de facto war with Iran right now?
Netanyahu: Look, Iran says that they want to exterminate the Jews of Israel. It says that it wants to destroy Israel. Openly, every day, just about every two hours. OK, so they say that they want to bring a good part of their army and certainly their advanced weaponry and Shiite militia — which has mainly non-Iranians, by the way — to Israel's doorstep, 1,500 kilometers away. What am I supposed to do? Somebody says, "We're going to kill you, we’re going to destroy your country. And we're going to bring the weapons and the wherewithal to achieve it," and so I said no. We won't let that happen. And, if necessary, we, you know, if they try to establish such bases next to our border with the view of destroying us, then we prevent it. We were doing that, and has it succeeded? By and large, yes. Not completely. I mean, they're still there, but they would have been in a much greater presence if we hadn't done it. And in fact, the presence has shrunken somewhat.
Question: You have warned world leaders about the dangers of Iran's ballistic missile program. Have you talked to world leaders about what Iran is doing openly, putting "death to Israel" on its missiles, (and) what kind of a country would do that if a country wants to be a responsible member of the international community. Have you talked to foreign leaders about that?
Netanyahu: Yes, many times, but I also talked to them about them, because Iran has been systematically liquidating — that means murdering — Iranian citizens, dissidents who have a different view. They would like to see a free, democratic Iran; they would like to see Iran become the country that realizes its potential. And these people who are sitting in various European capitals are being systematically murdered. So we've uncovered quite a few of these plots. We've prevented quite a few of these, these murders of Iranians, from taking place in European capitals. So I've asked the European leaders, on the week that we have exposed these plots to murder people on your own soil, you’re meeting with representatives of the Iranian regime to help them circumvent the American action so, you know, at least have some self-respect and consistency. How can you do this? I think the Europeans have to reconsider their approach to this regime and Tehran. I think the tyrants of Tehran should not be allowed to get away with murder, literally, and with this wanton aggression in the region, and with what they do to their own people. What they do and the deprivations that people suffer in Iran. And as I’ve said, I've talked to the Iranian people, have talked about sharing our expertise on water, the fact that we sent people to help Iranian earthquake victims. The fact that we are able to help in agriculture and able to help anything — I mean, the possibilities of what we can do together are endless. Endless, you know, when that's happening right now, it's happening in the Arab world, can you imagine? We used to be great enemies, and now, you know, it's becoming a different reality. It could be the same with Iran, and the people of Iran could have a brilliant future, but not with this regime.
Question: You've mentioned several times the people of Iran. I wanted to get your thoughts on the protests that are continuing inside Iran and any projections of, what you think is going to happen.
Netanyahu: I think the interesting thing is that, you know, people said, “Yea, but it has no leaders,” and I said that is very interesting, because that means that it's, you know, from the ground up, that it's not systemically organized. That it's people who want to be free. The Iranian people are a gifted people. They’re a very talented people. They are people that carry a great heritage. ... If you look at the great civilizations that existed 2,500 years ago, we in the Bible — in the Jewish Bible, we speak of King Cyrus as one of the great leaders of our history. We admire both his leadership and the friendship he showed to the Jewish people. So obviously, Iran has a tremendous heritage that we recognize in our own history, and certainly the people of Iran, the Persian people, they know their history. Iran deserves better. Such a gifted people with such a rich heritage, they deserve a better present and they deserve a better future. But it's not going to happen with this, you know, theocratic dictatorship that took over this country and just pushed it to the floor. Look at our GDP, how it grew, in Israel. During the 40 years of the revolution, look at what happened. Iran should be here. It's now on the floor. And I think it's up to the people who want to decide what to do with this regime. But I think that I understand their protest. And I understand the courage of people to go to the streets, or to go into my Facebook, it requires courage. They do it, which means that they have not given up hope.
Question: Mr. Prime Minister, as a last question, can you tell us about the impact of your outreach and communication in Farsi. I mean, not you but your channel, YouTube and Twitter.
Netanyahu: Yeah, I could tell you what the experts told me, because I can put it out and see what, you know, the impressions of an impressionistic assessment, just by hearing what people write, what people say, and so on. But I have some people who actually measured it and they said that this reaches very far and very deep in Iran, and it's very gratifying. For me, this is a sign of hope. This is a sign of hope, because it means that the people of Iran are not buying the propaganda of the regime. They are apparently a lot smarter than that. And the fact that they respond to the Israeli prime minister and openly identify with the Israeli prime minister, which requires tremendous courage, that tells me that Iran has a great future.