Breaking News Emails
Get the latest news and special reports. The news and stories that mattered provided the day of the week in the morning.
By Josh Lederman
WASHINGTON – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu surprised Iranians and even the White House on Wednesday with a vociferous call for an Israeli-Arab action against the government in Tehran, which his bureau called "the war with Iran."
Although the Israeli authorities attempted to mitigate the reference by changing the English translation, it was likely that the provocative comment reinforced the perception that Israel, its Gulf States, and the United States are interested in taking military action to the Iranian government to overthrow. It comes at a particularly delicate moment as the Trump administration uses a US-organized summit in Warsaw and the 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution this week to try to rally the world against the government in Tehran.
Netanyahu highlighted the importance of Israeli and Arab officials appearing in the same place in a short video taken on the summit, saying the summit was "not in secret because there are many of them".
"This is an open meeting with representatives of leading Arab countries who are joining forces with Israel to promote the common interest of a war with Iran," Netanyahu said.
The Israeli government has posted the Hebrew-language video on Facebook and Twitter. In the video, Netanyahu uses the word "milchama," which is literally translated into "war," but can also be used figuratively for "fight" or "fight."
Netanyahu's office also tweeted his statements on his English-language Twitter account and used the word "war." Shortly thereafter, when Netanyahu's comments were circulated around the world, the tweet was deleted and replaced with another one that changed him from "War with Iran" to "Combating Iran."
The original video for Netanyahu's comments was not removed from his Hebrew Twitter account.
"We've always known Netanyahu's illusions, now the world knows – and the people participating in #WarsawCircus," said Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Twitter.
The US government quickly turned to Israeli officials for an explanation. A senior US official traveling with Vice-President Mike Pence attending the Warsaw summit said senior Israeli officials told the US it was a poor translation.
But Senator Angus King, I-Maine, a member of the Senate's intelligence committee, rejected the idea that Netanyahu had simply been mis-translated.
"He knew what he meant," King said on MSNBC.
Netanyahu, who has emphasized his resilience to national security in his search for re-election, often uses sharp rhetoric to describe Iran and its intentions. Israel considers an atomically armed Iran to be an existential threat and has alarmed Iran's influence in other parts of the Middle East. But Netanyahu generally does not call for war in his public statements.
The Israeli leader, who said he has just concluded a meeting with the Foreign Minister of Oman, is trying to show how the concern of local government towards Iran has allowed for the burgeoning relations between Israel and Sunni Arab states, which were unimaginable for generations.
Countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which do not recognize Israel or have formal diplomatic relations, have begun to openly acknowledge their links with Israel behind the scenes and their peaceful security cooperation, especially Iran.
President Donald Trump shared Netanyahu's views on the dangers of Iran, and pleased the Israeli government with its decision last year to withdraw the US from the nuclear deal with Iran in 2015.
While the Trump government had hoped to make this week's summit in Warsaw a rally for Iran tougher, the focus needed to be broadened and focus on Iran, after many countries had fended off, three foreign diplomats reported to NBC News. The US ultimately rejected the direct references to "Iran" from its official descriptions of the agenda in Warsaw.