Israeli PM demands Obama commit to military action if Iran sanctions fail

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Binyamin Netanyahu pressing for explicit threat from US ahead of crucial meeting with Obama next week in Washington

Israel is pressing Barack Obama for an explicit threat of military action against Iran if sanctions fail and Tehran’s nuclear programme advances beyond specified “red lines”.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, is expected to raise the issue at a White House meeting on Monday after weeks of intense diplomacy in which Obama has dispatched senior officials – including his intelligence, national security and military chiefs – to Jerusalem to try and dampen down talk of an attack.

Diplomats say that Israel is angered by the Obama administration’s public disparaging of early military action against Iran, saying that it weakens the prospect of Tehran taking the warnings from Israel seriously.

The two sides are attempting to agree a joint public statement to paper over the divide but talks will not be made easier by a deepening distrust in which the Israelis question Obama’s commitment to confront Iran while the White House is frustrated by what it sees as political interference by Netanyahu to mobilise support for Israel’s position in the US Congress.

“They are poles apart,” said one diplomatic source. “The White House believes there is time for sanctions to work and that military threats don’t help. The Israelis regard this as woolly thinking.

They see Iran as headed towards a bomb, even though they agree there is no evidence Tehran has made that decision yet, and they want the White House to up the ante. The White House has the Europeans behind its position but it’s losing Congress.”

The mood is not helped by worsening distrust between the two leaders. Relations soured within weeks of Obama coming to power after he attempted to pressure Netanyahu to halt construction of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories.

Netanyahu told his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday that Iran will dominate his talks with Obama.

“There is no doubt that one issue will be at the centre of our talks, and that is, of course, the continued strengthening of Iran and its nuclear programme,” he said.

Israeli officials say that Netanyahu is not happy with Obama’s “vague assertion” that all options are on the table in dealing with Iran. The Israeli prime minister wants Obama to state unequivocally that Washington is prepared to use force if Iran’s nuclear programme advances beyond specified red lines.

US administration sources say that Obama is unlikely to make a major shift in policy in public although he may give Netanyahu firmer assurances in private.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration is intent on preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon but that for now it is committed to using sanctions and diplomacy.

“We believe that there is time and space to continue to pursue that approach,” he said. “Even as we refuse and make clear that we do not take any option off the table in our effort to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” he said.

But last month the Guardian revealed that some American officials are convinced that sanctions will not deter Tehran from pursuing its nuclear programme, and believe that the US will be left with no option but to launch an attack on Iran or watch Israel do so.

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