By HERB KEINON
Since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was elected two months ago, Iran has installed 7,000 centrifuges, indicating that he is nothing more than a new face to an old regime, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Wednesday.
This was the fourth time since Friday that Netanyahu took aim at Rouhani, reflecting the fact that even as negotiations with the Palestinians are due to start in Jerusalem next Wednesday, Iran remains the top item on the prime minister’s agenda and is considered by him to be the most important national security challenge facing Israel.
The theme of Netanyahu’s comments on Rouhani over the past six days has been that the Iranians need to be judged by their actions, not their words – and that these actions have not changed, even though the words have become softer.
The installation of the new centrifuges, including 1,000 upgraded models with enhanced uranium enrichment capabilities, is proof , Netanyahu said during a tour of a cluster of new IDF bases to be built at the Hanegev Junction south of Beersheba, that Iran has not changed course.
“The Iranian president is trying to present a new face to the West, but progress on the nuclear program continues,” he said.
Netanyahu was blunter later in the afternoon before a meeting with a delegation led by US Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R–Wisconsin).
“I know that some [people] place their hopes on Iran’s new president. He knows how to exploit this and yesterday he called for more talks,” Netanyahu said.
“Of course he wants more talks. He wants to talk and talk and talk. And while everybody is busy talking to him, he'll be busy enriching uranium. The centrifuges will keep on spinning. This isn’t a secret. The new Iranian president boasts that that is his strategy. He says, ‘I talk and I smile and I enrich uranium.’”
In addition to accelerating its enrichment capacities, Iran was also pursuing an alternative route, “the plutonium route,” the prime minister said.
“Unhappily, the situation is not getting any better; it’s actually getting worse,” he stressed to his visitors. “Iran is determined to get the bomb, and we must be even more determined to prevent them from getting it.”
Iran, he added, was also behind rocket and missile fire at Israel from the Gaza Strip.
During his tour of the new IDF base cluster south of Beersheba, Netanyahu said Israel would respond forcefully to any attack from Gaza and would not tolerate a drizzle of rocket fire from there on the South.
His government’s policy has been not only to stop the attacks in advance, but to respond harshly afterward.
“We saw this recently during Defensive Shield,” he said of the IDF operation in November that followed a spate of rocket fire, and which ended with an Egyptian brokered cease-fire.
“Now there is a quiet here that I am told has not been the case for more than a decade,” he said. “But no one can ensure that this quiet will not disintegrate, and if it does, the other side will come up against exactly the same policy that I just described, including during a time of a cease-fire.”