Tensions between Israel and the US over how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program resurfaced on Monday, as Washington rebuffed calls to set “red lines” for action.
Both say they are determined to stop Iran developing nuclear arms, but Tehran continues to defy international pressure and there are increasing signs of disagreement over tactics and timetables.
US President Barack Obama has made preventing weapons proliferation his foreign policy centerpiece and has pledged the US will prevent Iran joining the nuclear club.
However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who regards the alleged Iranian bomb program as an existential threat to his country, fears Tehran may be on the brink of nuclear “break-out capacity.”
This is the point at which Iran will be able to credibly imply that it has enough weapons know-how and highly enriched nuclear fuel to be able to quickly assemble a viable device if needed.
This in turn would vastly increase Tehran’s ability to deter Israeli and or Western military intervention — particularly if the Islamic regime has the time to disperse its equipment or protect it in deeper bomb-proof bunkers.
On Monday, Netanyahu urged Washington to declare “red lines” for Iranian behavior which, if crossed, could trigger immediate tough international action such as US-led air strikes.
“Iran will not stop unless it sees clear determination by the democratic countries of the world, and a clear red line,” he told Canadian public broadcaster CBC.
US officials have urged Israel not to take unilateral action, while arguing there is still mileage in UN-backed talks designed to persuade Iran to comply with its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
They are also keen to push the timetable for any eventual strike beyond Nov. 6, the date of the US presidential election.
The US State Department distanced Washington from the Israeli stance, which would be seen by many as locking the US and Iran into a logic of confrontation.
“The American people know that the president has said unequivocally he will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon,” US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.