Israel won't attack Iran in days or weeks-Netanyahu

JERUSALEM Thu Mar 8, 2012 9:51pm GMT

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel will give sanctions on Iran a chance to work and will not attack its nuclear installations in the coming days or weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday after returning from talks in Washington.

"I am not standing with a stopwatch in hand. It is not a matter days or weeks, but also not a matter of years. Everybody understands this," Netanyahu told commercial Channel 10 in an excerpt from a recorded interview.

Netanyahu has hinted Israel could resort to force should Tehran - which denies suspicions it is covertly trying to develop atomic bombs - continue to defy major powers' diplomatic pressure to curb its nuclear programme.

"We would be happy if this thing is resolved peacefully, if Iran decides to stop its nuclear programme," he said.

"To stop it, to dismantle its facility in Qom, and to stop enriching uranium. I will be most happy, I think all Israel's citizens will also be happy."

Netanyahu assured U.S. President Barack Obama in talks in Washington on Monday that Israel had made no decision on attacking Iranian nuclear sites, sources close to talks said.

But he gave no sign of backing away from the option of military strikes.

Israel is widely assumed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal but its conventional firepower may not be enough to deliver lasting damage to Iran's distant, dispersed and well-fortified facilities, many experts say.

But in an excerpt of a separate interview Netanyahu gave to state-run Channel 1, he explained Israel felt the Iranian threat was more immediate to itself than to the United States.

"There is an inherent difference: The U.S. is big and far away, Israel is less big and closer to the threat, and of course, there are different capabilities," he said.

"Therefore, the U.S. clock for stopping Iran becoming nuclear is not the same as the Israeli clock, which, of course, runs on a different timetable."

In answer to a question by the Channel 1 interviewer whether he trusted Obama's commitment that the United States would not allow Iran to become a nuclear threat to Israel, Netanyahu replied:

"It is an important statement, but ultimately our responsibility is to ensure that we do not get to a situation where we contradict what President Obama said. We must not get to a state where Israel does not have the ability to defend itself by itself against any threat."

(Writing by Ori Lewis)

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