Netanyahu criticizes US refusal to draw a 'red line' on Iran

Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu expressed worry that Iran is closing in on the bomb, but he may also be looking for a way to 'back down gracefully' from threats to attack Iran.

Gali Tibbon/AP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press conference with his Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borissov, not seen, in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Sept. 11. Netanyahu expressed on Tuesday his dissatisfaction with Washington's refusal to spell out what would provoke a US-led military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lambasted the Obama administration today for its continued refusal to give Iran an ultimatum, telling reporters, "Those who refuse to draw red line to Iran don't have the moral right to put a red line to Israel."

The defiant comments were a response to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement earlier this week that the US was “not setting deadlines” for attacking Iran and to US efforts to tamp down Israeli rhetoric about staging a unilateral strike on Iran's nuclear facilities in hopes of halting – or, more realistically, delaying – nuclear development that Israeli leaders believe is intended for a bomb.

"The world is telling Israel to wait on Iran because there is time and I ask, 'Wait for what? Wait for when?'," Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid quoted Mr. Netanyahu as saying, tweeting some of the prime minister's comments. "Clearly, diplomacy and sanctions didn't work. Every day that passes brings Iran closer to a nuclear bomb and that's a fact."

Iran insists that its nuclear work is for civilian purposes only.

The mood between the US and Israel oscillates quickly and often between cooperative and combative because of the gulf between their opinions on the best course of action on Iran. As White House spokesman Jay Carney said yesterday, according to Israel's Ynet News, the US believes there is still a window of time for sanctions and diplomatic efforts, but Israel believes both tactics have failed and it cannot afford to give either more time. 

"The president has said, again and again, unequivocally, that we will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon," State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday in Washington, according to The Wall Street Journal. "So we are absolutely firm about the president's commitment here, but it is not useful to be parsing it, to be setting deadlines one way or the other, red lines."

Tension between the Netanyahu and Obama administrations seemed to be abating last week as Israel eased up on its hawkish rhetoric, giving the US space to pressure Iran itself, but the comments by Ms. Clinton and other US officials this week, followed by Netanyahu's today, indicate they are ratcheting up again, Ynet News reports.

Netanyahu told visiting German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle that his suggested red line was uranium enrichment beyond 20 percent because that exceeds civilian energy refinement. Netanyahu told Mr. Westerwelle that it would take Iran only six weeks to reach weapons capability from that point, although independent analysts largely disagree, saying it would take at least several months, if not more than a year, Reuters reports. 

The Los Angeles Times cast the demand for a red line from the US as Netanyahu looking for a way to "back down gracefully" from his recent threats to attack.

Over the weekend, government insiders began hinting to Israeli news media that the chances of an attack this year were diminishing and that Defense Minister Ehud Barak — who was once seen as a staunch proponent of a military operation — had changed his mind, leaving Netanyahu more isolated.

Calls for the Obama administration to set red lines could give Netanyahu the political cover he may need if Israel decides to refrain from an attack, despite its persistent claims that sanctions are not working and that Iran's nuclear program is accelerating.

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