Israel and the U.S. disagree on what would be a realistic timetable for stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, Israel's defense minister said Thursday, but he stopped short of threatening unilateral Israeli action.
Ehud Barak reiterated concerns that Iran is trying to make its suspected nuclear weapons program immune from attack before taking a decision on assembling atomic bombs, and said Israel "cannot afford" to wait in such a situation.
However, Barak told Israel Radio that the Jewish state could hold off for several more months to allow sanctions and negotiations to work. During this period, it would become clear "if the Iranians intend or don't intend to stop their nuclear weapons program."
In the interview, Barak argued that superior U.S. military capabilities and Washington's position as a world power account for its different stance toward perceived Iranian nuclear threats. The U.S. has urged Israel to give sanctions time to work.
Israel feels directly threatened by a nuclear Iran, Barak stressed.
In a separate interview with German television, Barak said that 2012 is a "highly important" year for a possible strike and speculated that the timeframe for a "surgical intervention" _ a precision hit on Iranian targets _ is not a matter of weeks, but it is not a matter of years either.
Iran denies it is trying to develop nuclear weapons, and insists its nuclear program is meant for peaceful uses such as generating electricity and producing medical isotopes.
Barak said Israel and the U.S. agree on preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons, but that "the difference between us and the U.S. is the perspective on timetables."
"America has more abilities than Israel," Barak said. "You can think of a time when Israel would be very limited in its ability to act."
Also Thursday, a survey indicated that a majority of Israelis don't want Israel to strike Iran without U.S. military support, while 23 percent support unilateral Israeli action. The poll among 500 respondents was conducted this week for Israel's Channel 10 TV by pollster Camil Fuchs. It had an error margin of 4.3 percentage points.