Israel suggested on Monday it would be patient before taking any military action against Iran’s nuclear programme, saying during a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel there was still time for other options.
With Iran’s presidential election approaching in June there has been a pause in hawkish rhetoric by Israel, which has long hinted at possible air strikes to deny its arch-foe any means to make an atomic bomb, while efforts by six world powers to find a negotiated solution with Tehran have proved fruitless so far.
“We believe that the military option, which is well discussed, should be the last resort,” Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon told reporters at a news conference with Hagel.
“And there are other tools to be used and to be exhausted,” Yaalon said, listing diplomacy, economic sanctions and “moral support” for domestic opponents of Iran’s hardline Islamist leadership.
Iran has denied seeking nuclear weapons capability, saying it is enriching uranium only for domestic energy purposes while calling for the elimination of the Jewish state. Israel is widely believed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal.
U.S. President Barack Obama has in the past clashed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over how urgent the need may be to consider military action against Iran. Washington has suggested more time should be given for concerted diplomacy combined with sanctions pressure to produce a peaceful solution.
But with Obama recently installed in his second term, and Netanyahu in his third, the allies have publicly closed ranks. The United States projects more defence aid for Israel after the current disbursements of some $3 billion a year expire in 2017. And Hagel unveiled the planned sale to Israel of missiles, warplane radars, troop transport planes and refuelling jets.
“These decisions underscore that the military-to-military cooperation between the U.S. and Israel is stronger than ever, and that defence cooperation will only continue to deepen in the future,” Hagel said.