Israel's vice prime minister has attacked the Obama administration for sending "mixed messages" to Iran in the wake of a report saying Tehran had more than doubled its capacity to enrich uranium.
Moshe Yaalon made explicit the growing gulf between Israel and its closest ally, the United States, saying that Iran did not take seriously the military threat it was under over its nuclear programme.
"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 Israeli radio. "There are many cracks in the ring closing tighter on Iran. We criticise this."
Mr Yaalon's criticism is striking because he has been among those in the Israeli cabinet believed to have been urging time for sanctions against Iran to be allowed to work.
However, the rate of progress in the Iranian nuclear programme, even if there is no firm evidence that it intends to push ahead with building a nuclear weapon, is being used by Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, and Ehud Barak, defence minister, to back their case that a military strike is needed sooner rather than later.
The Obama administration, meanwhile, backed by key western allies, believes that the risks of a strike outweigh any potential benefits. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, America's top military officer, went as far as dissociating the United States from any attack by Israel, saying that in any case it would only delay and not destroy the nuclear programme.
"I don't want to be complicit if they choose to do it," he told journalists on Thursday.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, is also among those who have personally urged Mr Netanyahu to hold off from an attack, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
The latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iran had installed 1,000 more centrifuges, the devices that enrich uranium, at a fortified bunker in its second major enrichment site at Fordow, near Qom.
It said it had increased its stockpiles of higher-grade enriched uranium from 145-kg to 190-kg in the past three months.
It also alleged that Iran was frustrating attempts to inspect a site feared to have been used to test methods for exploding a nuclear weapon by "scrubbing it clean".
The allegations were rejected by Iran.----
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