JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insinuated in an interview published Friday that Israel cannot entirely rely on the U.S. to act against Iran's suspect nuclear program, a sign that the Israeli leader is not backing down from the sharp rhetoric that strained relations this week with the Obama administration.
Netanyahu has been arguing in recent weeks that Iran is getting close to acquiring nuclear weapons capability, a claim Iran denies. He has been pushing the U.S. to commit to the circumstances under which the U.S. would lead a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have repeatedly hinted that if the United States does not attack, Israel will.
"I hear those who say we should wait until the last minute. But what if the U.S. doesn't act? It's a question that must be asked," Netanyahu told Israel Hayom, in an interview marking the Jewish New Year.
The paper, a free mass-circulation daily, is funded by Netanyahu's billionaire Jewish-American supporter Sheldon Adelson.
The Obama administration also suspects Tehran is seeks to become a nuclear power and says it is committed to preventing a nuclear Iran, but insists more efforts must be made before resorting to military action. Washington is refusing to be specific about what exactly would necessitate a strike on Iran and has rejected an Israeli demand for "red lines" that cannot be crossed.
Earlier this week Netanyahu issued a rebuke of the U.S. cautious stance, perceived as an indirect swipe at the Obama administration. He said 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."
Netanyahu's harsh rhetoric has drawn criticism in Israel and abroad. It even prompted a leading Jewish-American senator to take the extraordinary step of publicly rebuking him. Some have charged that Netanyahu's comments were aimed at helping his longtime friend and Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, in his November election showdown with President Barack Obama.
In the interview, Netanyahu strongly rejected the claims.
"I am guided not by the elections in United States but by the centrifuges in Iran," he said. "If the Iranians were to say 'stop' and cease enriching uranium and preparing a bomb until the end of the elections in the United States then I could wait."
Adding to tensions, Romney criticized Obama at a New York fundraiser on Friday for allegedly not planning to meet in person with Netanyahu on the sidelines of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly meetings later this months.
Earlier this week Obama called Netanyahu and the White House followed up the phone call with a rare late-night statement denying reports of a rift. Netanyahu's office said the two men had a "good conversation."
White House spokesman Jay Carney downplayed any signs of discord with Israel.
"The president has made clear that he is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We are completely in sync with Israel on that matter. There is no daylight between the United States and Israel when it comes to the absolute commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," he said.