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Nothing to laugh at

“This is a bomb; this is a fuse.”

With those words, spoken from the podium of the United Nations General Assembly, and a hastily drawn chart, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu became the butt of jokes the world over last week. Cartoonists had a field day poking fun at him and his chart. The New Yorker ran a caption contest for the photograph. Late-night comedians found fodder for their barbs.

Even the GOP presidential hopeful, Gov. Mitt Romney, got into the act. Following a call last Friday to the Israeli prime minister, Romney told reporters, “I complimented him on his address at the United Nations and suggested that his graphic was not up to the normal Boston Consulting Group standards,” Romney said. He added, “No, I didn’t actually do that, but I was thinking that.”

There was nothing funny either about the chart, or what Netanyahu had to say. Rather than poking fun at Bibi, the world should take seriously what he had to say. He spoke a truth the world must not ignore.

In his brief United Nations address, Netanyahu made an effective case for drawing a red line that Iran cannot be allowed to cross. That, together with sanctions, are more likely to succeed than sanctions alone.

“[J]ust imagine the world with a nuclear-armed Al-Qaeda,” Netanyahu said, adding that a nuclear-armed Iran is an equally frightening prospect.

“Just look at what the Iranian regime has done up till now, without nuclear weapons,” he said. “In 2009, they brutally put down mass protests for democracy in their own country. Today, their henchmen are participating in the slaughter of tens of thousands of Syrian civilians, including thousands of children….

“They abetted the killing of American soldiers in Iraq and continue to do so in Afghanistan…. They’ve turned Lebanon and Gaza into terror strongholds…. In the last year, they’ve spread their international terror networks to two dozen countries across five continents…. They’ve even plotted to blow up a restaurant a few blocks from the White House….”

Now, he said, “just imagine Iranian aggression with nuclear weapons…. Who among you would feel safe in the Middle East? Who would be safe in Europe? Who would be safe in America? Who would be safe anywhere?”

To those who would argue that Iran’s leaders would never do something so irrational as releasing a nuclear device inside Israel because the fallout would spread to the Arab Middle East, Netanyahu quoted Iran’s former president, the Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. In a televised address in 2001, he said that dropping a nuclear bomb on Israel “is not irrational to contemplate,” because a miracle would protect the Arab states in the region from any serious damage.

The red line Netanyahu would draw will be reached next spring or summer, he said. It is the point at which Iran will be almost finished with the second of three stages of nuclear enrichment necessary for making a bomb. Waiting for the third stage will be too late, he said.

He also pointed out that over the last decade, the world community has done everything short of drawing a red line to stop Iran. Nothing has worked.

In fact, he said, despite the sanctions, “According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, during the last year alone, Iran has doubled the number of centrifuges in its underground nuclear facility in Qom.”

“At this late hour,” Netanyahu said, “there is only one way to peacefully prevent Iran from getting atomic bombs. That’s by placing a clear red line on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Red lines don’t lead to war; red lines prevent war…. In fact, it’s the failure to place red lines that has often invited aggression.”

He gave some thought-provoking examples.

A nuclear-armed Iran is no joke. Neither is the man who, more than anyone since the mid-1990s, has made it his mission to warn the world of the dangers and spur it to action. We may not always agree with Netanyahu and his politics, or his approach to the peace process, but on the danger a nuclear Iran poses to the world, he is on the money.

Perhaps Bibi’s “chart” was crudely drawn. So what? There was nothing crude about the message he delivered. The world may ignore that message at its peril.

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