Israel will not allow Iran to obtain atomic bombs but prefers a peaceful solution to the issue, Israel's prime minister said Thursday after intensive talks in Washington about Iran's nuclear program.
Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Israeli TV stations a day after returning from talks with President Barack Obama and other American officials. Both leaders said they would not permit Iran to obtain nuclear bombs.
While there is concern that Israel might launch a unilateral strike against Iran, Netanyahu said in Washington that no such decision has been made.
On Thursday he spelled out his policy on local TV stations, saying that this a matter of life or death for Israel.
"I hope that Iran chooses to part from its nuclear program peacefully," Netanyahu said in separate interviews, adding, "It is forbidden to let Iran arm itself with nuclear weapons, and I intend not to allow it."
Israel has charged for years that Iran is trying to make nuclear weapons. The U.S. and many of its other allies suspect that Iran's nuclear program could be aimed at weapons manufacture, but they believe the final decision has not been made. Iran insists its program is peaceful.
Israel considers Iran an existential threat because of its nuclear and missile programs, its support of violent anti-Israel groups in the region and frequent calls for destruction of the Jewish state.
"If the sanctions and diplomacy and pressure work, then great," Netanyahu said, "but we can only say that we won't accept a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons, because we face an existential threat."
Obama told Netanyahu at the White House that diplomacy should be given more time, but he did not rule out military action if necessary to protect U.S. interests.
Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel is on a different timetable than the Americans, because Israel is the one under threat.
Asked about a possible Israeli attack, Netanyahu said he is not "standing with a stopwatch" for war and prefers a peaceful solution, but the end result must be the same: "The threat of Iran with nuclear weapons be removed."
"If we don't make the right decision and prevent it, maybe there won't be anyone to explain it to," Netanyahu said. "Who will explain it to historians, or generations that won't come after us?"
An Israeli official claimed Thursday that new satellite images support Israel's contention that Tehran is developing an atomic bomb.
Satellite pictures provided by unspecified member countries to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, appear to show trucks and earth-moving vehicles at Iran's Parchin military site.
Diplomats said the images suggest the trucks could be carting away radioactive material created in nuclear testing.
The Israeli official said the pictures "reinforce what Israel has been saying all along ... the Iranian nuclear program is not benign." He spoke on condition of anonymity because no government statement was made.