JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel tried Sunday to step up pressure on the White House and the world regarding Iran’s nuclear program, saying there was not enough urgency on the issue.
Speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Netanyahu said Washington must demonstrate to Iran’s newly elected president “by action” that “the military option which is on the table is truly on the table.”
Netanyahu reiterated his familiar demands that Iran must be forced to stop the enrichment of nuclear material, remove already enriched uranium from the country, and shut down the Qom nuclear facility. He said those demands “should be backed up with ratcheted sanctions.”
“They have to know you’ll be prepared to take military action; that’s the only thing that will get their attention.”
Iran maintains that its nuclear program is for civilian use. But Netanyahu described Iran’s new president, Hasan Rouhani, as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” who would “smile and build a bomb.”
The prime minister said Iran had not yet crossed the red line he laid out last fall in a UN speech but was nearing it. He also said that because Israel is closer and “more vulnerable,” it would “have to address this question of how to stop Iran, perhaps before the United States does.”
The CBS interview followed similar remarks Netanyahu made Sunday morning at the opening of his Cabinet meeting here, part of a stepped-up campaign planned in the coming days to return the world’s attention to the Iranian nuclear program.
The implied criticism of the US government’s approach since Rouhani’s election came as Israeli and Palestinian officials were expecting Secretary of State John Kerry to return to the Middle East this week for his sixth visit in four months to try to revive peace talks.
At the same time, Israeli leaders were rankled by US officials who confirmed over the weekend that Israel had attacked a shipment of Russian-made antiship missiles in Latakia, Syria, this month, said to be the fourth Israeli strike in Syria since January.
Yuval Steinitz, a senior minister close to Netanyahu, said on Israeli radio that “intelligence leaks are bad whether they come from there or from here.” Uzi Landau, another government minister, said, “The less they talk, the better it is for everyone.”
Asked about the Latakia attack on “Face the Nation,” Netanyahu said he was “not in the habit of saying what we did or we didn’t do,” but that his policy was “to prevent the transfer of dangerous weapons to Hezbollah,” the Lebanese Shi’ite militant organization, “and other terror groups.”
Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, said tension over revelations about Israeli operations has surfaced in several administrations and did not threaten the two countries’ “longstanding, complex relationship with manifold interests.”
“Let’s say that Israel would rather this would not have been leaked out of Washington,” he said. “So be it. These squeaks are part of the relationship.”
Israel has been carefully watching the Syrian conflict since it erupted in March 2011. While it has been careful not to take sides in the civil war, Israel has repeatedly said it would take action to prevent what it calls ‘‘game-changing’’ weapons, including chemical weapons and advanced guided missiles, from reaching Hezbollah or other militant groups. Syrian President Bashar Assad is a key backer of Hezbollah.
‘They have to know you’ll be prepared to take military action; that’s the only thing that will get their attention.’ — Benjamin Netanyahu
In January, Israeli aircraft destroyed what was believed to be a shipment of advanced Russian antiaircraft missiles in Syria that were bound for Lebanon. In May, two Israeli airstrikes near Damascus targeted advanced Iranian ground-to-ground missiles also thought to be headed for Hezbollah.