Bibi intensifies war of words with US over Iran ‘red line’

‘Wait for what?’

Benjamin Netanyahu / AP

With new evidence that Iran is on the cusp of finalizing a nuclear weapon, a pointed war of words between the U.S. and Israel escalated Tuesday, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that the Jewish state will not wait for the Obama administration to sign off on a possible strike against Iran.

"The world tells Israel ‘wait, there's still time.' And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?' Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel," Netanyahu declared at a press conference in what is being viewed as a direct rebuke to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton stoked Israeli fears earlier this week when stated that the U.S. is "not setting deadlines" regarding Iran’s nuclear program. "Good-faith" talks with the genocidal regime, she added, are the best solution to the nuclear impasse.

"We’re convinced that we have more time to focus on these sanctions, to do everything we can to bring Iran to a good-faith negotiation," Clinton reportedly said.

Israeli officials quickly seized on Clinton’s comments, arguing that her soft approach would only encourage Iran to continue working on its clandestine nuclear weapons program.

"Without a clear red line, Iran won't stop its race towards a nuclear weapon," one Israeli official told the Israeli news site Ynet.

Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the Obama administration must be more forthcoming about its plan to deal with Iran.

"What the Israelis want, and what many Americans want from the president of the United States, is something other than ‘all option are on the table.' It's just too vague," Schanzer said. "The question of red lines is a red herring. Red lines can always be revised. This is about leadership.

"The lack of clarity from the president has created an ugly and cantankerous debate in Washington and around the world," he added. "This nasty debate can easily solved with the president stepping up and saying, ‘OK, here's the plan.' "

Other sources speculated that the Obama administration is being intentionally vague in an effort to put Israel in an tough position.

Obama "likes it" that Israel is cornered, said a former George W. Bush Administration official. "He's made Israel an issue, a thorn in everyone's side [and] Israel doesn't not want to be a wedge, yet he's made it a wedge issue."

The tense back and forth between the Obama administration and Israel comes on the heels of several new reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that reveal Iran has only quickened and sharpened its nuclear program.

Iran has "advanced its work on calculating the destructive power of an atomic warhead through a series of computer models that it ran sometime within the past three years," according to an AP report Tuesday.

These types of calculations would provide Iranian scientists critical insight into the formulation of a nuclear payload.

The U.S., Israel, and at least two other Western nations reportedly leaked the information to the IAEA, according to the AP report.

Israel’s Netanyahu has long urged President Obama to delineate a clear "red line" that could lead America to abandon stagnant negotiations and fully consider a military option.

Obama has refused to do so on multiple occasions, pushing back at Netanyahu via foreign policy surrogates like Clinton and others.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reinforced Clinton's admission, saying "it is not fruitful as part of this process to engage in that kind of specificity" on setting red lines.

Netanyahu's comments today are the first public indication that the Obama administration is actively working to deter an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. The Israeli prime minister's suggestion that he is receiving a "red light" from Obama contrasts with Obama's pledge that Israel has a "sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs," as he told a 2012 AIPAC conference.

The acknowledgement by Clinton and Carney that the administration has neither deadlines nor red lines for Iran was itself a response to a complaint by Netanyahu on Sunday that Obama's refusal to establish red lines for Iran was undermining the chance that diplomacy and sanctions would avert the need for military action. "The sooner we establish [red lines], the greater the chances that there won't be a need for other types of action," Netanyahu said.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta joined the fray by wondering aloud whether the Iranian nuclear program might be intended for peaceful purposes, telling CBS's "This Morning" that if the Iranians decided to pursue a nuclear bomb, "we think we will have the opportunity once we know that they've made that decision" to "take the action necessary to stop" Iran. The United States has "pretty good intelligence" he said.

Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Committee of Intelligence, who recently participated in a meeting in Israel where Netanyahu and the U.S. Ambassador to Israel exchanged sharp words over the Obama administration's handling of Iran, said Israeli leaders are at "wits end" with the Obama administration.