Israeli capabilities are at the heart of the debate over a military strike. Israeli leaders are concerned that Iran will use more time to move its critical nuclear facilities out of reach of Israel’s arsenal. That would leave only the United States with the unquestioned ability to destroy deeply buried Iranian facilities.
U.S. officials say Israeli leaders are sincere about the need to act quickly, but they said they do not think Netanyahu has made the decision to strike. Rather, the Israeli leader is trying to pressure the United States.
“They are deadly serious, as is the president, about the need to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” a senior U.S. official said. “But there has been far too much talking — background leaks and fabrications — that hurt the cause.”
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomacy.
Obama has already issued the strongest U.S. threat against Iran to date, declaring that the United States will not tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapon and ruling out a policy of containment. He has vowed to use “all options” if need be, but he has not set a deadline.
Former Israeli national security adviser Uzi Dayan, who met with Netanyahu last week, said Israeli leaders don’t doubt Obama’s pledge to prevent a nuclear Iran. But, he said, they “ask themselves whether the Americans are really determined.”
The United States opposes a unilateral Israeli strike now, arguing that there is still time for sanctions and negotiations to persuade Iran not to build a nuclear weapon.
Dayan said there is a sense that an American commitment made after the election would carry less weight. “Everyone understands that it has an impact,” he said. “You can’t make promises on the other side of midnight.”
A U.N. nuclear watchdog report due out soon is expected to provide evidence of further progress by Iran in expanding its underground uranium enrichment facility known as Fordow, Western diplomats familiar with the United Nations’ work said.
Built into the side of a mountain and immune from all but the most advanced munitions, Fordow already contains hundreds of working centrifuges for producing low-enriched uranium, the fuel used in nuclear power plants.
Since its nuclear program was exposed a decade ago, Iran has claimed that its objective is to produce electricity, not weapons. But the United States and its allies have maintained that the real goal is the capacity to build a nuclear weapon.
Brulliard reported from Jerusalem. Joby Warrick contributed to this report.