Sep 16, 2012 No Comments ›› Pat Dollard
(FT) Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said on Sunday that Iran was only six or seven months away from having most of the fuel it needed to build a nuclear weapon, as he took his appeal for the US to take a tougher line against Iran directly to the American public.
Appearing on two different Sunday talk shows, Mr Netanyahu stepped up his demand that President Barack Obama set a “red line” for when he would take military action against Iran’s nuclear programme. “You have to place that red line before them now, before it’s too late,” he said on NBC.
He was speaking as the top commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards warned that “nothing would remain” of Israel if it were to attack Iran. Brigadier General Mohammad-Ali Jafari also warned that Iran would strike US bases in the region in the event of an Israeli attack.
Mr Netanyahu’s television interviews underlined the current friction between the US and Israeli governments which has spilled over into public over the past week. By making his pitch directly the American public, Mr Netanyahu hopes to increase the pressure on Mr Obama to publicly spell out his position, however the Israeli prime minister also risks being accused of interfering in the US presidential election.
His comments are likely to provide fodder for Republicans who have criticised Mr Obama of not doing enough to curtail Iran’s nuclear programme and who are using the tension between the two leaders to make a strong pitch to Jewish voters.
While Mr Obama has said that Iran will not be allowed to get a nuclear weapon, Republicans take a similar line to Mr Netanyahu that Iran should not be allowed to develop a “capability” to build a nuclear weapon, which implies a shorter timeline.
Mr Netanyahu also sought to link the Iran situation with the wave of anti-American violence in the Middle East. “It’s the same fanaticism that you see storming your embassies today. You want these fanatics to have nuclear weapons?” he said.
In an effort to avoid appearing partisan, Mr Netanyahu said it was “simply not the case” that the Obama administration had abandoned Israel, as Republican candidate Mitt Romney charges.
However, some observers believe that Mr Netanyahu is taking risks with the political support Israel enjoys in the US by making such a public appeal during an election season. “Israel is making matters worse by allowing differences with the US to spill out into the open,” said Aaron David Miller, a former state department official.
In the most explicit threats yet made by a senior Iranian official about the response to an Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities, Gen Jafari said: “It is clear that nothing would remain of Israel [if it attacks Iran] considering its small size and numerous vulnerabilities vis a vis Iran’s mass of missiles.”
In the case of such military confrontation, it was “unlikely” that Iran would remain committed to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, he told reporters on Sunday. Iran would however still choose not to produce nuclear weapons as this was against religious teachings, he said.
Iran has repeatedly said it will not scale back its nuclear programme, which it says aims to generate electricity not develop weapons, despite increased fears of an Israeli strike and tough international sanctions by the US and the EU.
“Israel is too small to dare attack Iran on its own,” Gen Jafari said, adding that any such decision would need permission from Washington and hence make the US a target for Iran.
The US, he acknowledged, had strong military capabilities in the region but its bases were “highly vulnerable” while its regional missile defence system could counter “some” but not “the mass” of Iran’s missiles which can reach US bases in Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.