JERUSALEM – Israel's prime minister, ratcheting up a public feud with the U.S. over Iran, made it clear Tuesday that he was dissatisfied with Washington's refusal to spell out what would provoke a U.S.-led military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.
Washington wants to give diplomacy and bruising sanctions more time to try to pressure Tehran to abandon its suspect nuclear work. In a message aimed at Israel, it said several times this week that deadlines or "red lines" are counterproductive.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says peaceful methods are not working, and has warned repeatedly that Iran is getting perilously close to acquiring a nuclear bomb. His remarks have generated speculation Israel is readying to strike on its own to prevent that from happening.
"The world tells Israel, 'Wait. There's still time,'" Netanyahu said Tuesday. "And I say: 'Wait for what? Wait until when?' 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."
Tehran insists its nuclear program is peaceful. Although the United States has accused Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapon capability under the cover of a peaceful program, the Obama administration has said it does not believe Iran has yet decided whether to build an atomic bomb — if it in fact develops the ability to do so.
Israel has not publicly defined its own red lines, which might include a deadline for Iran to open its facilities to U.N. inspectors or a conclusion that Iran has begun enriching uranium, a key component in bombmaking, to weapons-grade level.
Israel sees a nuclear Iran as a threat to its survival and judging by Netanyahu's rhetoric, he is not convinced the U.S. will make good on its pledge to prevent Tehran from becoming a nuclear power.
For weeks, he has been lobbying the U.S. to take a tough public position against Iran, with the implicit threat that Israel could act unilaterally if Washington doesn't.
Israel is worried that Iran will soon move key nuclear technology to heavily fortified underground bunkers that would be impervious to Israeli bombs.
Should Israel decide to act on its own, it would have less time to strike than the U.S. would because its firepower is more limited. Some Israeli officials have suggested that an attack would have to be carried out by fall.
Senior American officials, however, have made it clear they oppose any Israeli military action at this time. The U.S., with its superior firepower, would be better positioned than Israel to give nuclear talks and sanctions more time to take effect.
American officials are wary of carrying out an attack that could send oil prices spiking, or set off a Mideast war, just weeks before a presidential election.