Would Israel Attack Iran, Or Is Netanyahu "Bluffing"?

(AP Photo/Debbie Hill, Pool)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned against allowing Iran to become a nuclear power in some of his harshest rhetoric yet.

In a report published Tuesday, The Atlantic says Netanyahu's message was clear: If President Obama doesn't act to stop Iran developing a nuclear weapon, the Israelis may be forced to attack Iran and do it themselves.

The article is titled, "Netanyahu to Obama: Stop Iran—Or I Will".

Having read it, I can't find the quote which makes the threat of a unilateral strike on Iran's nuclear sites so explicit, but there is no ambiguity in Netanyahu's dire warning that a nuclear Iran would be a danger, not just to Israel, but to the U.S. and the rest of the peace-loving world.

"You don't want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs. When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran," Netanyahu told The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg.

"The Obama presidency has two great missions: fixing the economy, and preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons," the hardline Israeli leader said, just hours before taking the reigns of the government for a second time on Tuesday.

Tempering the you-do-it-or-we-will tone of the article, Goldberg adds that Netanyahu did voice support for President Obama's effort to end Tehran's quest for a nuclear weapon (a quest the Islamic Republic's leaders have vehemently denied – in spite of Western intelligence agencies) through dialogue.

"How you achieve this goal is less important than achieving it," the Israeli leader said. While expressing very little optimism, Netanyahu acknowledged that negotiations with the regime could still work.

"I think the Iranian economy is very weak, which makes Iran susceptible to sanctions that can be ratcheted up by a variety of means," Goldberg quoted him as saying.

The reporter also conceded that any Israeli threat of unilateral military action against Iran may well be "a tremendous bluff".

Either way, balancing Israel's desperate cry for tough action against Iran with his own ambitions to eek out a peace between Israel and the Palestinians will shape Mr. Obama's Middle East policy for months and years to come. Goldberg's article offers an interesting preview of the changing dialogue between Washington and Israel.
  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.

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