Israel urges US to 'act' against Iran

Iran could possibly be on the brink of a nuclear bomb in the next 6-7 months.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Picture: AFP

JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Sunday that Iran would reach the brink of being able to build a nuclear bomb in just six or seven months, adding urgency to his demand that President Barack Obama set a "red line" for Tehran amid the worst US-Israeli rift in decades.

Taking to the airwaves to make his case directly to the American public, Netanyahu said that by mid-2013, Iran would have 90 percent of the material it needed for an atomic weapon.

He again pressed the United States to spell out limits that Tehran must not cross if it is to avoid military action - something Obama has refused to do.

"You have to place that red line before them now, before it's too late," Netanyahu told NBC's "Meet the Press" program, saying that such a move could reduce the chances of having to attack Iran's nuclear sites.

The unusually public dispute between close allies - coupled with Obama's decision not to meet with Netanyahu later this month - has exposed a gaping US-Israeli divide and stepped up pressure on the US leader in the final stretch of a tight presidential election campaign.

It was Netanyahu's most specific explanation yet on why he has become so strident in his push for Washington to confront Tehran with a more forceful ultimatum. At the same time, his approach could stoke further tensions with Obama, with whom he has had a notoriously testy relationship.

US officials say Iran has yet to decide on a nuclear "breakout" - a final rush to assemble components for a bomb - and they express high confidence that it is still at least a year away from the capacity to build one and would then need more time to fit a warhead onto a missile.

This contrasts with Netanyahu's timetable, although he stopped short of saying Iran had decided to manufacture a weapon.

Netanyahu showed no signs of backing off from his pressure campaign and equated the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran with the Islamist fury that fuelled attacks on US embassies across the Muslim world last week.

"It's the same fanaticism that you see storming your embassies today. You want these fanatics to have nuclear weapons?" Netanyahu asked in the NBC interview, in a clear emotional appeal to Americans still reeling from the angry protests sparked by a film that mocked the Prophet Mohammad.

There have been no accusations, however, of any Iranian role stoking violence that hit Middle Eastern and African capitals.