Israeli minister: Israel to decide alone on Iran

March 4, 2012 - 10:55 AM
Obama US Israel

FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2011 file photo, President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations. In his most explicit warning yet, President Barack Obama declares the United States could take military action to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. But Obama also says he will try to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a crucial meeting next week to avoid a pre-emptive strike against Iran. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's foreign minister said Sunday that American pressure will not affect Israeli thinking on how to cope with the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program.

Avigdor Lieberman delivered his assessment on the eve of a key meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama at the White House.

Both countries believe that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, but divisions have emerged on how to confront the threat. Israel has sent a series of signals recently that military action may be needed to stop the Iranians. The U.S., while not ruling out the threat of force, has said that tough new Western economic sanctions imposed on Iran must be given time to work. Iran claims its program is for peaceful purposes.

In comments aimed at Israel, Obama said in a magazine interview last week that he is not bluffing about attacking Iran if it builds a nuclear weapon. But he also cautioned Israel that a premature attack on Iran would do more harm than good.

Asked about the president's comments, Lieberman told Israel Radio said that Israel doesn't "dictate anything" to the U.S.

"It is definitely important to discuss the issue in the appropriate forums and make decisions quietly and responsibly. All this chatter does not help anybody," he said.

Asked what Netanyahu should tell Obama to ensure that Israel is not left by itself to deal with the Iranian threat, Lieberman said the sides would exchange opinions but ultimately Israel would act in its own interests.

"President Obama definitely doesn't need our advice," he said. "We are an independent sovereign state, and at the end of the day, the state of Israel will make the most correct decisions as we understand them."

Israel believes a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to its very existence, citing Iranian support for anti-Israel militant groups, repeated Iranian calls for Israel's destruction and Iran's development of ballistic missiles capable of striking Israel.

With U.S. elections approaching and the global economy extremely fragile, the U.S. and its Western allies are deeply concerned about unilateral Israeli military action.

Many analysts believe an Israeli attack would unleash a region-wide conflict, including Iranian attacks on American troops in the Gulf, and could damage the world economy by causing oil prices to skyrocket. It also remains unclear how much damage a military strike would do to Iran's nuclear program. Many of the country's nuclear facilities are buried deep underground.

A new poll indicates that Israel would much prefer for any military action to be coordinated with the U.S.

The poll, conducted by the Israeli Dahaf agency for the University of Maryland, said 81 percent of Israelis oppose a solo attack on Iran. It said two-thirds of Israelis would support military action if coordinated with Washington.

The poll, released on Thursday, questioned 500 Israelis and had a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points.

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