“We are closer now probably than we’ve ever been” to convincing Iran to alter its nuclear policies, an Israeli government official said, adding that still tougher sanctions are needed because “Iran will not adapt unless you put a new level on.”
The adviser and the official spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
Last week, in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Netanyahu emphasized the need to set a “red line” for military action against Iran before it enriches enough uranium to build a bomb. But he suggested that Iran would not reach that point until well into 2013, which many analysts said meant an Israeli strike is unlikely this year.
The speech capped weeks of escalating tensions between U.S. officials and Netanyahu over his demands for such an ultimatum from the Obama administration, a stance that had sparked criticism in both countries that he was interfering in the U.S. election.
The apparent shift in tone in Israel has eased those strains and reduced pressure on the Obama administration in the remaining weeks of the campaign. Some Israeli analysts said Netanyahu realized that he could not afford a public rift with Israel’s most important ally and with an American president who polls suggest is likely to be reelected.
The Tehran protests over price hikes and the devaluation of the Iranian rial, which analysts attribute to both tough international sanctions and domestic policies, have also played a role, said Meir Javedanfar, who teaches Iranian politics at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
“Until now, Netanyahu has said, ‘Sanctions are not working, so we must consider the military option.’ He can’t say that anymore,” Javedanfar said. “What’s happening with the rial is far more dangerous to the Iranian regime than Stuxnet,” he added, referring to a cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear program, which U.S. officials have said was a collaboration between Israeli and American experts.
This week, Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said the Iranian economy was “on the verge of collapse.” Moshe Yaalon, another top cabinet minister, called for harsher sanctions, which he said must be paired with a credible military threat to form an “integrated strategy” to pressure Iran. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.