JERUSALEM – Israel is sounding increasingly agitated over what it views as American dithering with economic sanctions too weak to force Iran to end its suspected drive toward nuclear weapons.
In a clear message aimed at the White House, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday criticized what he said was the world’s failure to spell out what would provoke a U.S.-led military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. The comments came in response to U.S. refusals in recent days to set “red lines” for Tehran.
With his strong words, Netanyahu is taking a bold gamble. He clearly hopes to rattle the U.S. into doing more, for fear that Israel might otherwise soon attack Iran on its own. But he risks antagonizing President Barack Obama during a re-election campaign and straining relations with Israel’s closest and most important ally. Relations between the two leaders have often been tense in the past.
Israeli officials say American politics do not factor into their thinking, but that the sense of urgency is so grave that the world cannot hold its breath until after the November election.
“The world tells Israel, ‘Wait. There’s still time,’ ” Netanyahu said Tuesday. “And I say: ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?’ Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”
Israel views a nuclear-armed Iran as a mortal threat, citing Iran’s persistent calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, its development of missiles capable of striking Israel, and Iranian support for Arab militant groups.
Tehran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.
Although the United States has accused Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapon capability under the cover of a peaceful program, the Obama administration has said it does not believe Iran has decided whether to build an atomic bomb – if it in fact develops the ability to do so.
Israeli officials believe time is running short with Iran moving perilously close to reaching weapons capability. They point to Iranian enrichment of uranium, the movement of Iranian nuclear research facilities to fortified underground bunkers and Iran’s refusal to open its facilities to U.N. inspectors.