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Though reputed to have the Middle East’s sole nuclear arsenal, Israel would be hard-put to deliver lasting conventional damage to Iran’s remote facilities and to handle a multi-front war.
Netanyahu’s public calls for a U.S. ultimatum have deepened acrimony with Obama, a Democrat accused by his Republican rivals of being soft on the Jewish state’s security. That has stirred American accusations of Israeli meddling in the November presidential elections - something denied by Netanyahu.
“The prime minister will say (in his speech) that Israel and the United States can work together to achieve their common goal,” said the Israeli official on condition of anonymity.
Netanyahu, who heads a broad-based, conservative coalition government, departed for New York on Wednesday saying he would take the U.N. podium for an Israel “united in the goal of preventing Iran from achieving nuclear weaponry”.
But surveys show that most Israelis - apparently swayed by the open dissent of several senior national-security figures - would oppose launching unilateral strikes on Iran, given the risk of alienating Washington and of sparking knock-on clashes with Tehran’s Islamist militant allies in Lebanon and Gaza.
A poll published by the liberal Haaretz newspaper on Thursday found that 50 percent of Israelis feared for the survival of their country, should there be a conflict.
Israeli opposition leader Shaul Mofaz criticised Netanyahu for sparring with Obama and voiced confidence in U.S. resolve.
“I am convinced that the United States, the president of the United States, is determined to prevent Iran going nuclear,” Mofaz told Israel’s Army Radio.
Even within Netanyahu’s coalition there have been misgivings about the pitch of disagreement with the United States.
Danny Ayalon, deputy to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, described Obama’s Iran remarks at the United Nations as “important, albeit measured”.
Speaking on Israel Radio, Ayalon said the Netanyahu government and Obama administration were in discreet contacts and approaching agreement on setting limits for Iran.
“And the more Iran flouts the whole world, this coming together will, ultimately, reach a unanimity of positions and absolute similarity,” he said.