Netanyahu Says U.S. and Israeli ‘Clocks’ Differ on Iran’s Threat
JERUSALEM — Addressing his home audience after talks with President Obama in Washington this week, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, acknowledged that differences still existed in the Israeli and American timetables for contending with the Iranian nuclear program.
In taped interviews to be broadcast this weekend on the three main Israeli television channels, Mr. Netanyahu told Israelis that he hoped that international pressure and economic sanctions would succeed in persuading Iran to abandon its nuclear program, which Israel and the West suspect is a cover for Iranian efforts to achieve the capability to make nuclear weapons.
But in excerpts of the interviews shown late Thursday, Mr. Netanyahu reiterated the point he had sought to make forcefully in Washington: that if Iran did not change course, Israel, which considers a nuclear Iran a threat to its existence, would not allow itself to be in a position where its fate was left in others’ hands.
“The United States is big and distant, Israel is smaller and closer to Iran, and naturally, we have different capabilities,” Mr. Netanyahu told Channel One, the public television channel. “So the American clock regarding preventing Iranian nuclearization is not the Israeli one. The Israeli clock works, obviously, according to a different schedule.”
He added that Israel must never be in a position where it could not defend itself.
Allaying fears of any imminent action, Mr. Netanyahu told the commercial Channel Two that stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability was “not a matter of days or weeks.” But he added, “It is also not a matter of years.”
The interviews were to be broadcast in full on Saturday night.
Iran insists that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes. However, after a series of increasingly onerous sanctions were imposed on Iran by the West, it agreed last month to resume talks on its uranium enrichment. Israel, the United States and the other Western powers believe that even if Iran has not yet decided to assemble a nuclear bomb, it is striving to create the capability to do so.
Mr. Netanyahu has vowed that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon on his watch. Israel has long called for the need for a credible military option against Iran, and there has been growing anxiety abroad that Israel might carry out a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities in the coming months.
Mr. Netanyahu and his aides have highlighted the importance of Mr. Obama’s public statements about the need for Israel to “always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat,” and “Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs.”
But at the same time, Mr. Obama made it clear that he believes that more time should be given for the sanctions and negotiations to work, that the only way to permanently prevent Iran from going nuclear is to have Iran decide to give up its program, and that this was not the time for an Israeli pre-emptive strike.