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Difference in U.S. and Israeli "Clocks" on Iran Now Painfully Obvious

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Don't tweak the nose of the superpower that feeds you. That might be a thought for Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- or perhaps he knows what he's doing, with some ingenious plan to make it look like he has bitter differences with his country's greatest ally.

Netanyahu today is going out of his way to give the impression that Israel is ready, able, and -- in his view -- fully justified to attack Iran. He doesn't seem interested in whether the United States feels the time has come to abandon diplomacy and sanctions.

Speaking in English -- and that's always more of an attention grabber in Jerusalem -- the prime minister repeated his demand for "red lines" to be set by the Western world: so that Iran will know precisely what is unacceptable and could trigger a war. He chose his words today, however, so as to respond to the Obama Administration's refusal to set red lines or deadlines.

Here is Netanyahu's sentence that will cause offense in Washington: "Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel."

Netanyahu also said -- to reporters in Jerusalem covering a visit by European dignitaries: "The world tells Israel: 'Wait! There's still time!' And I say, 'Wait for what?' ... diplomacy and sanctions haven't worked. The sanctions have hurt the Iranian economy, but they haven't stopped the Iranian nuclear program. That's a fact. And the fact is that every day that passes, Iran gets closer and closer to nuclear bombs."

Many Israeli military and intelligence officials are saying privately -- and some of them even publicly -- that a reason to wait is to ensure that the United States is on Israel's side.

A sharp contrast can be found in Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's remarks to Norah O'Donnell, who interviewed him at the Pentagon yesterday for CBS This Morning.

Panetta said that after Iranian leaders make a decision to build a nuclear bomb, there would be adequate time to foil that plan with a military strike. He was suggesting that no fateful decision, such as starting a Middle East war, is required at this time: "It's roughly about a year right now. A little more than a year. And so, you know, we think -- we think we will have the opportunity once we -- we know that they've made that decision, [to] take the action necessary to stop."

Will the U.S. know, if and when the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, decides to have his scientists "break out" and build a bomb? Panetta told CBS News: "We have pretty good intelligence on them. We know generally what they're up to. And so we -- we keep a close track on them."

Panetta also said that, despite Iran burying much of its nuclear program underground, the United States has the capability "to strike at them effectively -- if we have to."

While many Israeli military and intelligence officials -- some former, some current, some in public and some only privately -- say that it would be much better if the United States were to strike Iran, several are making a point this week of adding: "Do not underestimate Israeli capabilities."

It appears that Netanyahu still hopes to have a private meeting with Obama, either in New York or Washington late this month, to reach some conclusions in this odd, delicate and dangerous dance. The Israeli leader is very reluctant to depend on any foreigners to defend the Jewish state; but Israeli politicians are also hesitant about starting a regional war.

Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman are co-authors of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars. They blog at .