* U.S. does not want to be "complicit" in any attack
* Israel's prime minister clashes with U.S. envoy - media
* Germany's Merkel urges caution, Haaretz newspaper reports
By Crispian Balmer
JERUSALEM, Aug 31 Israel is facing growing
international pressure not to attack Iran unilaterally, with the
United States in particular making clear its firm opposition to
any such strike.
Recent rhetoric by Israeli leaders that time is running out
to halt Iran's contested nuclear programme has raised concern
that military action might be imminent, despite repeated calls
from abroad to give sanctions and diplomacy more time to work.
The U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General
Martin Dempsey, has always cautioned against a go-it-alone
approach, but he appeared to up the ante this week by saying
Washington did not want to be blamed for any Israeli initiative.
"I don't want to be complicit if they (Israel) choose to do
it," Dempsey was quoted as saying by Britain's Guardian
newspaper on Friday, suggesting that he would view an Israeli
attack as reprehensible or illegal.
He went on to repeat that although Israel could delay Iran's
nuclear project, it would not destroy it. He said that
unilateral action might unravel a strong international coalition
that has applied progressively stiff sanctions on Iran.
"(This) could be undone if (Iran) was attacked prematurely,"
he was quoted as saying.
While Tehran says its nuclear programme is peaceful, Western
powers believe it is trying to produce an atomic bomb. Israel,
believed to have the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East,
views a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its existence.
Adding to the sense of urgency, the U.N. International
Atomic Energy Agency said on Thursday Iran had doubled the
number of uranium enrichment centrifuges in an underground
bunker, showing its desire to expand its nuclear work.
CRACKS IN THE ALLIANCE
Israel's vice prime minister Moshe Yaalon said on Friday he
feared Iran did not believe it faced a real military threat from
the outside world because of mixed messages from foreign powers.
"We have an exchange of views, including with our friends in
the United States, who in our opinion, are in part responsible
for this feeling in Iran," he told Israel's 100FM radio station.
"There are many cracks in the ring closing tighter on Iran.
We criticise this," he said, also singling out U.N. Secretary
General Ban Ki-moon for travelling to Tehran this week.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will
speak out about the dangers of Iran in an address next month to
the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
He is also expected to hold talks with U.S. President Barack
Obama during his visit. A senior Israeli official told Reuters
this month that Netanyahu would be looking for a firm pledge of
U.S. military action if Iran does not back down.
However, the meeting might well be icy.
Israel's top-selling daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported on
Friday that there had been an "unprecedented" and "angry"
exchange between Netanyahu and the U.S. ambassador in Tel Aviv
earlier this month over Iran.
Quoting a source who was present at the meeting, Netanyahu
had criticised Obama for not doing enough to tackle Iran. The
U.S. ambassador Daniel Shapiro took exception and accused the
prime minister of distorting Obama's position.
The prime minister's office declined to comment on the
report and there was no initial response from the U.S. embassy.
Adding to the growing chorus of concern facing Netanyahu,
Haaretz newspaper reported on Friday that German Chancellor
Angela Merkel had delivered a "harsh message" to Netanyahu 10
days ago, telling him to hold off on any attack plans.
The German embassy in Tel Aviv declined comment.
Israeli officials have repeatedly said that a growing array
of sanctions against Iran are not having any impact on the
Tehran leadership and believe they will only back down in the
face of a credible threat of military action.
However, Netanyahu faces an uphill task persuading his own
military and inner circle of the wisdom of a unilateral strike.
Political sources told Reuters on Tuesday an ultra-orthodox
party in his coalition was opposed to war.