By Ori Lewis
JERUSALEM | Sat Sep 1, 2012 1:56pm EDT
– A confidant of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that U.S. President Barack Obama had yet to present a credible military threat that could deter Iran from seeking nuclear weapons.
The latest criticism was voiced by Tzachi Hanegbi, an influential former legislator who quit the opposition Kadima party in July to join up with Likud and Netanyahu, with whom he has always maintained a close relationship.
“I don’t see that there is a credible threat for American action, the rhetoric of the U.S. president is too vague, very amorphous … I don’t see that (Obama’s words) will be translated into more tangible intentions and therefore this is probably why the Iranians don’t take it seriously, they speak out against it and they dismiss it,” Hanegbi said.
It was another sign of Israeli impatience with its closest ally, the United States, which has urged Israel not to attack Iran on its own and to give international diplomacy more time to try to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.
Obama has insisted he will not allow Iran to build atomic weapons and that all options were on the table, but Israeli officials have said they wanted to hear stronger language from the president about possible U.S. military action.
In a U.S. election year, Republican candidate Mitt Romney has also sharply criticized Obama’s handling of Iran as not being tough enough.
Tehran says it is refining uranium to fuel a planned network of nuclear power plants so that it can export more of its oil and gas. The United States and its allies accuse Iran of a covert bid to develop the capability to make nuclear bombs.
Israel, believed to have the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, views a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its existence.
Israel’s deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Friday he feared Iran did not believe it faced a real military threat because of mixed messages from foreign powers. But he told Reuters in July that the United States should lead the way.
“We believe of course that the military option should be the last resort and we believe that someone else should be doing the job. But we should be ready to defend ourselves by ourselves,” he told Reuters in an interview.
Netanyahu has said he will speak out about the dangers of Iran in an address this month to the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
He is also expected to hold talks with Obama during his visit but no announcement has yet been made. A senior Israeli official told Reuters last week that Netanyahu would seek a firm pledge of U.S. military action if Iran does not back down.
A United Nations report said on Thursday that Iran has sharply increased the number of centrifuges it has in a fortified bunker at Fordow, showing Tehran has continued to expand its nuclear program despite Western pressure and the threat of an Israeli attack.
Hanegbi, a former chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told a town hall meeting in northern Israel that a forthright U.S. military threat was the most effective way to stop Iran.
“If there will not be a credible threat of military action, there probably won’t be another way to persuade the Iranians to stop their nuclear program. The most credible threat is the American threat, the American ability and its might are far more worrisome for the Iranians than Israel’s,” Hanegbi said.
But he added that Israeli action could also be effective in causing Iran to abandon its nuclear enrichment ambitions.
“Is the Israeli threat credible? I am not able … to tell the Iranians about our capabilities but the fact that I am talking about it shows that I do not think it is unrealistic,” Hanegbi said.
Hanegbi was convicted of perjury in July 2010 after an eight-year trial which forced him out of parliament but he has been allowed to stand again at the next elections where he is expected to stand as a Likud party candidate.
Hanegbi cited Israel’s 1981 destruction of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor as an example of how the action had caused Saddam Hussein’s regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
The U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, has always cautioned against a go-it-alone approach, but he appeared to up the ante this week by saying Washington did not want to be blamed for any Israeli initiative.
“I don’t want to be complicit if they (Israel) choose to do it,” Dempsey was quoted as saying by Britain’s Guardian newspaper on Friday, suggesting that he would view an Israeli attack as reprehensible or illegal.
(Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Jon Hemming)