By DANIEL ESTRIN
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel cannot depend on the United States to lead any action against Iran's nuclear program and can only rely on itself, the country's defense minister said in remarks published Tuesday.
The comments by Moshe Yaalon came as world powers and Iran were about to start a new round of talks over Iran's contested nuclear program.
The West fears the program could be used to make a nuclear weapon and seeks to scale it back. Tehran denies the program has a military dimension and insists it is for peaceful purposes only, such as power generation. If a deal with world powers is reached, sanctions imposed on Iran over the nuclear program could be lifted.
Israel has criticized the ongoing talks with Tehran, saying an interim nuclear deal, struck last November, has left Iran's military nuclear capabilities largely intact while giving it relief from some economic sanctions.
At the same time, Israel's strongest piece of leverage, the threat of a military strike on Iran, has taken a back stage to the talks despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's insistence it remains on the table.
Yaalon's remarks seemed to underscore that insistence.
"We thought that the one who needs to lead the campaign against Iran is the U.S.," Yaalon was quoted by the daily Haaretz as saying during a lecture at Tel Aviv University on Monday.
Instead, Yaalon said, the U.S. began negotiations with Iran and Iran gained the upper hand in the talks.
"If we wished others would do the work for us, it wouldn't be done soon, and therefore in this matter, we have to behave as if we can only rely on ourselves," Yaalon said.
Yaalon's office confirmed his remarks but refused to comment whether he was advocating an Israeli strike on Iran. Netanyahu's office also declined to comment.
Yaalon criticized the West, saying its leaders prefer to avoid confrontation with Iran. As for the U.S., the defense minister alleged American influence is waning in other parts of the world, such as Ukraine over the crisis there.
"Weakness certainly does not pay in the world," he said. "No one can replace the U.S. as the world's policeman. I hope the U.S. will come to its senses."
Yaalon has made controversial comments about Washington in the past. In January, he was quoted as saying that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was "obsessive" and "messianic" over his Mideast peace efforts. The comments triggered an angry response from the U.S., Israel's most important ally.