First Published: 2012-12-26


Netanyahu plays Iran card in re-election bid


Israeli PM pledges halting Tehran's nuclear programme will be his first priority as premier.


Middle East Online

By Jonah Mandel - JERUSALEM

Who do (Israeli voters) think is the most suitable candidate to deal with the Iranian threat?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday put Iran at the top of on his re-election campaign, pledging that halting Tehran's nuclear programme would be his first priority as premier.

"Who do (Israeli voters) think is the most suitable candidate to deal with the Iranian threat? With the missile threat? With the threat of terror?" he asked supporters in Jerusalem in a speech at the official launch of his campaign for January 22 polls.

"We still have a lot ahead of us," he said. "First and foremost we must stop Iran's nuclear programme, and the time for that is slipping away. That is my first mission as prime minister."

Israel and Western powers accuse Iran of seeking to acquire a weapons capability under the guise of its nuclear energy programme. Iran denies the charge, saying its work is for peaceful purposes only.

At a speech before the UN's General Assembly in September, Netanyahu warned that if Iran continued work at the current pace, it could have the necessary material for a first bomb by the summer of 2013.

In his speech on Tuesday night, Netanyahu expanded at length for his domestic audience on what he termed his government's economic achievements and laid out his future goals. He only briefly addressed the peace process.

"Our hand will continue to be extended to our neighbours for true and mutual peace, while continuing to insist on the state of Israel's vital interests -- I'm telling you -- in the face of all the pressure," he said.

On Monday, Israel approved the latest in a series of plans for approximately 5,000 Jewish homes in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Palestinians want east Jerusalem as capital of their promised state, and they -- along with the international community -- consider settlement construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank a violation of international law.

"With God's help, we will continue to live and build in Jerusalem, which will always stay united under Israeli sovereignty," Netanyahu said.

"In the last years we did a lot to strengthen the settlements, and we will continue to act to strengthen" them in the next term, said Netanyahu.

Polls predict that Netanyahu's Likud party, which is running on a joint list with the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu faction of former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, will be by far the largest party in the next parliament.

Lieberman, who earlier this month resigned from Netanyahu's cabinet after attorney general Yehuda Weinstein said he would charge him with breach of trust, used the opportunity to blame Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas for the freeze in peace talks.

"I hear people reproaching us, that we need to speak with Abu Mazen and the Palestinians," he said using Abbas's nom de guerre.

"The enlightened Left ... offered to return to the 1967 borders and divide Jerusalem and Abu Mazen said -- niet," Moldovan-born Lieberman said, using the Russian word for "no".

After the event, Lieberman was taken for further questioning by the police following Weinstein's decision to re-open the investigation and possibly toughen the charges against the former minister.

Lieberman, despite resigning from cabinet, is still running for cabinet as Netanyahu's number two.

He has said he hopes for a quick trial that would be over by the elections. But the justice ministry announced on Sunday it might conduct further probes.


Iraq forces press Mosul assault

Clashes, air strikes end Aleppo ceasefire

UN call to extend Yemen truce falls on deaf ears

Turkey reports over 35,000 people in detention after coup attempt

In violation of constitution, Iraq parliament votes to ban alcohol

Civilians suffer in IS 'smoke war'

74 jihadists dead after IS assault on Kirkuk

Nearly 100 civilians dead in Turkey-backed Syria op

Kuwait says more work required to counter IS funding

Mosul refugees under IS fire at Syrian border

Morocco king calls for public administration reform

Israeli air force strikes Gaza

Russia not considering renewing Aleppo ceasefire

Israel minister: ‘we will completely destroy’ Gaza in next war

Mosul battle sees highest number of US air strikes yet

Palestinians free four held after visiting settlement during Sukkot

IS executes five Iraqis in western town

Baghdad denies Ankara taking part in Mosul operation

Iraq forces fight to tighten noose around Mosul

Turkey hits Kurdish group in Syria again

Kremlin aims to 'liberate' Syria with Assad in power

Egypt court upholds 20-year sentence for Morsi

Turkey PM warns EU: Turkey has alternatives!

Battles rage in Yemen despite three-day truce

For second day, Iraq forces clash with ISIS in Kirkuk

New report accuses Syria of chemical attack in Qmenas village

Islamic Jihad stages show of force in Gaza

UN says 'crimes' in Aleppo are 'of historic proportions'

IS sniper kills Iraqi journalist in Kirkuk

US official says coalition should target IS in Raqa after Mosul

Moscow extends Aleppo ceasefire

Italy PM says officials should have voted against UNESCO Jerusalem resolution

Syrian ‘Toy Smuggler’ accused of fraud

UN: IS may use civilians as human shields in Mosul

Armed men attack refugee boat off Libya

US says will work with Turkey to deal IS 'lasting defeat'

Moscow ‘highly concerned’ at jihadists’ refusal to leave Aleppo

Four Palestinians arrested by their security forces for settlement visit

Mauritania president says no change to two-term limit

UN delays Aleppo evacuations due to lack of security assurances

Oman denies reports of arms smuggling to Yemen

Israel looking to buy three more German submarines

83 migrants rescued off Cyprus

Under pressure in Mosul, IS fighters attack Kirkuk

Air strikes hit Yemen rebels despite ceasefire