Israel resumes tough posture over Iran's nuclear program

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JERUSALEM -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday reiterated his willingness to attack the Iranian nuclear program without support from Washington or the world, returning to an aggressive posture he had largely abandoned since his United Nations speech in September.

"When David Ben-Gurion declared the foundation of the state of Israel, was it done with American approval?" Mr. Netanyahu asked in an interview broadcast Monday night on Israel's Channel 2. "When Levi Eshkol was forced to act in order to loosen the siege before 1967, was it done with the Americans' support?

"If someone sits here as the prime minister of Israel, and he can't take action on matters that are cardinal to the existence of this country, its future and its security, and he is totally dependent on receiving approval from others, then he is not worthy of leading," Mr. Netanyahu added. "I can make these decisions."

While U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama, have always acknowledged that Israel ultimately has the right to decide how to defend itself, Mr. Netanyahu's tough tone and timing -- on the eve of the U.S. presidential election -- are sure to reignite rifts with Washington over how best to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb. As has been the case over the past two years, however, it is impossible to know whether his hawkish words are harbingers of deeds or part of a strategic campaign to scare nations into increasing economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran.

"I am not eager to go to war," Mr. Netanyahu said in the seven-minute interview. "I have been creating very heavy pressure, and part of this pressure comes from the knowledge some of the most powerful nations in the world have that we are serious. This isn't a show; this is not false."

Besides creating diplomatic tensions if Israel acts alone against Washington's wishes, there is a more practical concern: The Israeli military lacks the capacity to penetrate Iran's underground nuclear facilities, and thus could likely only delay potential development of an Iranian nuclear weapon by a few years. The United States has bunker-busting bombs that could do far more damage.

The interview was broadcast on "Fact," a program often compared to "60 Minutes," at the end of an hourlong documentary on Israeli decision-making regarding Iran over the past decade.

The program highlighted the opposition of Israel's own security establishment to a unilateral strike, saying Mr. Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, ordered the Israeli Defense Forces to prepare for an imminent operation in 2010, but were rebuffed by the chiefs of their military and international intelligence service.

Among those interviewed was former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, currently contemplating a political comeback. He accused Mr. Netanyahu of "spitting in the face" of Mr. Obama and "doing anything possible to stop him from being elected president of the United States," a harsh critique in a country that regards safeguarding its special relationship with Washington as a sacred priority.

"What's all this talk, that we will decide alone on our fate, and that we won't take anybody else into consideration?" asked Mr. Olmert, who is expected to make Mr. Netanyahu's relationship with Mr. Obama a mainstay of his campaign if he runs. "Can someone please explain to me with which airplanes we will attack if we decide to attack alone, against the opinion of others -- airplanes that we built here in Israel? With which bombs will we bomb, bombs that we made by ourselves? With which special technologies will we do it, those that we made by ourselves, or those that we received from other sources?"

But when shown a video of Mr. Olmert's retort, Mr. Netanyahu was not cowed. "If what I just heard is that, on this matter which threatens our very existence, we should just say -- we should just hand the keys over to the Americans, and tell them, 'You decide whether or not to destroy this project, which threatens our very existence' -- well, that's one possible approach, but it's not my approach," he said.

"My approach is that if we can have others take care of it -- or if we can get to a point where no one has to -- that's fine; but if we have no choice, and we find ourselves with our backs against the wall, then we will do what we have to do in order to defend ourselves."

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