Israeli deputy PM disagrees with Netanyahu over Iran
Published Thursday, September 13, 2012
Benjamin Netanyahu's deputy for intelligence and atomic affairs on Thursday broke with the Israeli prime minister's call for Iran to be confronted with a "red line" beyond which its disputed nuclear program would face military attack.
In a broadcast interview, Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor appeared to side with the United States in balking at Netanyahu's repeated demand that it set Iran an ultimatum or risk seeing Israel launch region-rattling unilateral strikes.
Meridor's remarks also underscored debate within the leader's inner circle about potentially exacerbating the rift with Washington with a war that polls show most Israelis, including several senior security figures, would oppose.
"I don't want to set red lines or deadlines for myself," Meridor, one of several Netanyahu deputies who form the core of his security cabinet, told Israel's Army Radio when asked how much time remained before force against Iran should be used.
He called for international sanctions against Tehran to be intensified "so it understands that the price it is paying is mounting and that the only way to be rid of it is to stop the (nuclear) race, to arrive at an agreement, or an international understanding, that it is calling it quits".
Israel's position as the only nuclear-armed country in the region prompts many analysts and some politicians to accuse it of employing insidious double standards.
Russia said last week that no evidence of Iranian plans to develop nuclear weapons exist.
"You always consider other options, for when everything else is exhausted. And I think that, for now, we have to continue with the pressure."
That echoed U.S. President Barack Obama, who seeks reelection in November and has tried to champion continued carrot-and-stick diplomacy with Iran while fending off charges by Republican rival Mitt Romney that he is soft on the Jewish state's security. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons.
Netanyahu's office did not immediately respond to the Meridor interview, which followed similar misgivings on Tuesday by Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who publicly suggested the premier was undermining ties with the United States.
Though he did not mention Netanyahu by name, Meridor lamented what he called "the excessive chit-chat of recent months" in Israel about how and whether to tackle its arch-foe.
"I don't want to speak in apocalyptic ... Holocaust terms," said Meridor, a veteran member of the ruling, rightist Likud party. "I think that we are strong and we will overcome the challenges, but this is a serious challenge."
Though widely assumed to have an nuclear arsenal, Israel's conventional forces are designed for border wars and many experts - including the top U.S. general, Martin Dempsey - have voiced doubt over the degree to which they could damage the distant, dispersed and well-defended Iranian nuclear facilities.
In comments that may have been designed to hint at the feasibility of a secret solo strike, Netanyahu on Thursday praised the Israeli military during a meeting with its high command.
"From time to time, operations have been necessitated, and they were carried out with exemplary success," he said. "Israel's citizens should know what I know - that there is someone to depend on. There is someone who is ready for the job."
Israel's leader suggested in an interview Thursday that he'll keep publicly pressing the United States to get tougher on Iran, despite the strains his remarks have caused with the Obama administration.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's remarks appear to have been aimed at rattling the US into action for fear Israel might otherwise soon attack Iran on its own. But his heightened rhetoric has raised tensions with the White House, and even prompted a leading Jewish US senator to take the extraordinary step of publicly rebuking him.
Netanyahu has repeatedly warned that Iran is getting dangerously close to acquiring a nuclear bomb and has been lobbying Washington for weeks to spell out what conditions would touch off a US-led attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.
In a thinly veiled swipe at the US, he said earlier this week that "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."
But Washington, which insists it won't let Iran become a nuclear power, has refused to be specific, despite Israel's implicit threat to act unilaterally if the US doesn't take a tough public position.
The spat has become unusually public, prompting President Barack Obama to phone Netanyahu earlier this week and to follow up the call with a rare late-night White House statement denying reports of a rift. Netanyahu's office has also the two men had a "good conversation."
In a newspaper interview Thursday, Netanyahu suggested he won't abandon his calls for the US to set "red lines, " telling The Jerusalem Post that he was "not exactly shy" about expressing his views on Israel's security interests.
"When I feel I need to speak out, I do," he said.
While Washington has tried to downplay reports of a rift, a leading Jewish US senator who solidly supports Israel took the rare step of publicly criticizing Netanyahu in a letter to the Israeli leader posted on her website.
"I write to you as one of Israel's staunchest supporters in Congress to express my deep disappointment over your remarks that call into question our country's support for Israel and commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons," wrote Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California. "Your remarks are utterly contrary to the extraordinary United States-Israel alliance, evidenced by President Obama's record and the record of Congress."
Israel enjoys strong backing in Congress and it is extremely unusual for its supporters there to question the Israeli government in such an open fashion. Boxer's decision to do so appears to suggest that at least some of his Congressional supporters feel he has gone too far.
Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev had no immediate comment on the letter.
(Reuters, AP, Al-Akhbar)