By Janine Zacharia
Saturday, May 22, 2010; A08
JERUSALEM -- Israel, which initially tolerated President Obama's effort to thwart Iranian nuclear ambitions through sanctions, has grown increasingly impatient in recent weeks with the approach and concerned that whatever is agreed to now at the U.N. Security Council will only allow Iran more time to advance its program.
A fourth round of potential sanctions unveiled by the Obama administration on Tuesday did little to allay Israel's fears that the world doesn't seem able to stop Iran from continuing to enrich uranium or develop what Israel believes is a covert nuclear weapons program.
Israeli officials and commentators say that nothing short of sanctions on Iran's energy sector will work. And with no sign of that in the offing, the prospect of Israeli military action -- which Israeli officials have always said remains an option if sanctions fail -- looms larger.
"We are frustrated with the fact that Iran does not feel the pressure of the world, does not care about the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.N., because we feel that time is running out," Tzahi Hanegbi, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said in an interview.
An Israeli security official recently complained of a muddled discourse on sanctions that has made the ultimate objective unclear: whether the Obama administration is trying to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb or only to roll back its growing capabilities. Israeli officials have been seeking clarity from their American counterparts on what the U.S. plan is for preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear device if sanctions fail.
In the years that the United States has tried to build an effective sanctions regime, Iran has acquired a stockpile of at least two tons of low-enriched uranium, which is enough for at least one bomb. Israel believes that Iran has also been developing a method for weaponizing highly enriched uranium. Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes.
An analysis in Haaretz on Friday by the newspaper's intelligence correspondent, Yossi Melman, titled "Strike -- or Sit Tight," illustrated the mood by week's end.
Moshe Yaalon, Israel's deputy prime minister, said this month that Israel has the capabilities to attack Iran and described the possibility of a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. Israel has acted unilaterally in the past to set back nuclear programs. In 1981, it obliterated an Iraqi nuclear reactor, and in 2007, it struck a suspected Syrian nuclear site.
Israeli frustrations with the inability of the United States to build international consensus for a tougher approach toward Iran began to mount last fall when a separate U.S.-led effort to persuade Iran to ship out its low-enriched uranium faltered.
With U.N. sanctions going nowhere, Israel prodded and failed to persuade the Obama administration to impose sanctions on Iran's petroleum sector, even after the House and Senate passed legislation enabling it to do so. In April, Iran's announcement that it had produced faster centrifuges further rattled Israel.
Israel issued no official response this week to the Security Council sanctions package circulated by the United States. It also refrained from publicly commenting on a new Turkish-Brazilian deal to send part of Iran's low-enriched uranium stockpile to Turkey as a trust-building measure, possibly within one month. In return, Iran would receive highly enriched uranium fuel rods for use in a medical reactor.