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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Israeli Leader Says Iran Is \'20 Yards\' From Nuclear Bomb


WASHINGTON - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel reiterated on Sunday that the best way to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon was to draw a “red line” that, if crossed, would trigger military intervention. He also denied that he was injecting himself into one of the most divisive foreign policy issues of the American presidential campaign.

Mr. Netanyahu was criticized at home and abroad for similar remarks last week, which were widely seen as an effort to put pressure on President Obama to act more forcefully against Iran. And he turned to two prominent American talk shows, “Meet the Press” on NBC and “State of the Union” on CNN, to make his case even more urgently to a broader American audience, arguing that Iran was six months away from having “90 percent” of what it needed to make an nuclear bomb.

“You know, they're in the last 20 yards, and you can't let them cross that goal line,” Mr. Netanyahu said on “Meet the Press,” displaying his familiarity with American football, another Sunday ritual. “You can't let them score a touchdown, because that would have unbelievable consequences, grievous consequences for the peace and security of us all, of the world really.”

Mr. Netanyahu's remarks came after a tumultuous and violent week in the Middle East that began with the storming of the American embassy in Cairo and the deaths of four Americans at a consulate in Libya and then continued with protests across the Islamic world, forcing the evacuation of all but emergency staff from two embassies on Saturday. The protests were inspired by an American-made Internet video depicting the Prophet Muhammad in denigrating wa ys.

Mr. Netanyahu sought to link the violence with Iran's nuclear ambitions, arguing that Iran's leaders were driven by the same fanaticism that enraged the protesters. “You want these fanatics to get nuclear weapons?” he asked.

Iran, which denies that it is pursuing nuclear weapons, added threats of its own to international tensions over its nuclear program. The commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, warned on Sunday that “nothing will remain” in Israel if it or others launches attacks against his country.

He said Iran and its allies â€" presumably militants in Lebanon and Gaza â€" would retaliate at Israel borders and beyond, targeting American military bases in the Persian Gulf and shutting down the Strait of Hormuz.

“Our response to Israel is clear: I think nothing will remain of Israel,” General Jafari said in a news conference in Tehran, according to an account by The Associated Press. “Given Israe l's small land area and its vulnerability to a massive volume of Iran's missiles, I don't think any spot in Israel will remain safe.”

The United States and Israel have cooperated intimately over most matters of security, including Iran's nuclear efforts, but Mr. Netanyahu's remarks over the last week underscored his evident personal estrangement with Mr. Obama.

The two spoke by telephone on Tuesday after Mr. Netanyahu's first remarks, and while the White House said that they remained united in their goal of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, the conversation appeared to do little to assuage the Israeli leader.

The differences over how to respond were fully on display on Sunday. The American representative to the United Nations, Susan Rice, appeared on the same program and argued that international diplomacy and economic sanctions were having an impact on Iran and should be given time to work.

“There is time and space for the pressure we are mounting,” she said.

Mr. Netanyahu insisted that he was not trying to influence American politics. He expressed respect for Mr. Obama's vow that he would not allow Iran to acquire an atomic bomb and a deep appreciation for the bipartisan support Israel has in American politics.

Asked specifically if he felt that Mr. Obama's opponent, Mitt Romney, would take a firmer stand toward Iran, Mr. Netanyahu demurred. He also refused to discuss Mr. Romney's accusation that Mr. Obama had thrown Israel “under the bus.”

“I'm not going to be drawn into the American election,” he said. “And what's guiding my statements is not the American political calendar but the Iranian nuclear calendar.”

Mr. Romney and Mr. Netanyahu are friends and worked together briefly in the 1970s, when they were corporate advisers at Boston Consulting Group.