JERUSALEM — Israel’s leader suggested in an interview Thursday that he’ll keep publicly pressing the United States to get tougher on Iran, despite the strains his remarks have caused with the Obama administration.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks appear to have been aimed at rattling Washington into action for fear Israel might otherwise soon attack Iran on its own. But his heightened rhetoric has raised tensions with the White House and even prompted a leading Jewish US senator to take the extraordinary step of publicly rebuking him.
Netanyahu has repeatedly warned that Iran is getting dangerously close to acquiring a nuclear bomb. He has been lobbying Washington for weeks to spell out what conditions would touch off a US-led attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.
In a thinly veiled swipe at the United States, he said earlier this week that ‘‘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.’’
But Washington, which insists it won’t let Iran become a nuclear power, has refused to be specific, despite Israel’s implied threat to act unilaterally if the United States doesn’t take a tough public position.
‘Your remarks are utterly contrary to the extraordinary US-Israel alliance.’
The spat has become unusually public, prompting President Obama to call Netanyahu earlier this week and to follow up with a rare late-night White House statement denying reports of a rift. Netanyahu’s office has also reported the two men had a ‘‘good conversation.’’
But in an interview Thursday, Netanyahu suggested he won’t abandon his calls for the United States to set ‘‘red lines,’’ telling The Jerusalem Post that he was ‘‘not exactly shy’’ about expressing his views on Israel’s security interests.
‘‘When I feel I need to speak out, I do,’’ he said.
Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes but Netanyahu is convinced it’s a cover to build a nuclear bomb.
The United States also suspects Tehran is seeking to become a nuclear power, and Washington has led international efforts to try to persuade Iran to abandon suspect elements of its nuclear program.
But the White House wants to give diplomacy and tough sanctions time to try to pressure Iran. And in a message aimed at Israel, it said several times this week that deadlines or ‘‘red lines’’ are counterproductive.
While Washington has tried to downplay reports of a rift, a leading Jewish US senator who solidly supports Israel criticized Netanyahu in a letter to him posted on her website.
‘‘I write to you as one of Israel’s staunchest supporters in Congress to express my deep disappointment over your remarks that call into question our country’s support for Israel and commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons,’’ wrote Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat. ‘‘Your remarks are utterly contrary to the extraordinary United States-Israel alliance, evidenced by President Obama’s record and the record of Congress.’’
Israel enjoys strong backing in Congress, and it is extremely unusual for its supporters there to question the Israeli government in an open fashion. Boxer’s note suggests thatsome of his congressional supporters feel he has gone too far.