Israeli Officials See Gap With U.S. Widening Over Iran

Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Close

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Military action against Iran’s nuclear program could be averted if the international community sets a clear “red line” it will not permit Iran to cross, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today.

Netanyahu’s comments came as the U.S. reportedly is considering making such a declaration to head off a possible Israeli strike on Iran. President Barack Obama has said the U.S. won’t allow Iran to have nuclear weapons, while Israeli leaders have said that Iran even attaining the capability to make them would pose an existential threat to their country.

“This is a brutal regime that is racing ahead with its nuclear program, because it doesn’t see a clear red line from the international community,” Netanyahu said today at a meeting in his Jerusalem office, according to an e-mailed statement. “The greater the resolve and the clearer the red line, the less likely we’ll have conflict.”

Obama is considering new steps to forestall a unilateral Israeli strike, including a declaration on what Iranian actions might trigger a U.S military response, the New York Times reported yesterday.

Netanyahu’s statement today came after Israeli officials expressed dismay over remarks last week by U.S. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that an Israeli strike would “delay but probably not destroy” Iran’s program, and that he doesn’t “want to be complicit” if Israel chooses to attack on its own. The two officials, who were not authorized to give their names, said that Dempsey’s comments had weakened the argument that Israel should not strike by Iran by itself because it can count on U.S. willingness to take military action to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.

Quickened the Pace

The International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report last week that Iran has quickened the pace of enriching uranium to possible weapons capability, and that there was new information that supports concern Iran may have researched how to make nuclear arms.

“The report confirms what we have been saying for some time: while the international sanctions are indeed making things difficult for the Iranian economy, they are not delaying the progress,” Netanyahu said in a Cabinet meeting yesterday.

Netanyahu is scheduled to visit New York on Sept. 27 to speak at the United Nations General Assembly. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told Channel Two television yesterday that the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu is “what it needs to be” and said the media are exaggerating the differences between the U.S. and Israel on Iran.

Disagreement With U.S.

The disagreement between Israel and the U.S. on Iran is “over timing, and regarding that, there are certainly our statements and opinions as opposed to those of the Americans,” Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said today on Army Radio. “But there is no disagreement between us and the Americans over the need to stop Iran.’

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Aug. 31 in Tehran that his country’s nuclear program is intended for civilian purposes only and to use it to build weapons would be ‘‘a sin.”

Israeli and U.S. leaders have said repeatedly that “all options are on the table” to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, including a military strike. Netanyahu told U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Aug. 1 that time “is running out” for a peaceful solution to Iran’s atomic program.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France’s BFM television today that he is “absolutely hostile to Iran having nuclear weapons, but I think that if there were an Israeli attack, unfortunately it could come back to haunt Israel by allowing Iran to cast itself as a victim.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem at cbendavid@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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