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US gambling with Israel's security: minister

Israel's new Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party, speaks during a conference as part of the WATEC Water Technology Exhibition in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv, on October 22, 2013
Israel's new Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party, speaks during a conference as part of the WATEC Water Technology Exhibition in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv, on October 22, 2013.

Israel accused the United States of gambling with its security Thursday as it grapples for a nuclear deal with Iran, and renewed warnings it could conduct its own military strikes.

Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, dispatched by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to campaign against a nascent deal being negotiated by western powers with Iran, spoke out against moves which in a first phase would apparently allow Tehran to halt but not dismantle its nuclear program.

"While I yearn for peace I do not believe that now, is the right time to gamble with our security," Bennett said.

The tough sanctions now in place against Iran must not falter, Bennett insisted in a speech to the Brookings Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

With the Iranian economy squeezed "now is the precise time to tell them, 'either or'. Either you have a nuclear weapon program, or you have an economy, but you can't have both," said Bennett, the leader of the far right Jewish Home party.

"It's like a boxing match where the other guy's on the floor and the referee's counting six, seven, eight, nine and at this very last moment we go and pick him up and let off the pressure. Now's not the time to let up."

He insisted the goal of the negotiations being led by six powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- should not be just pausing Iran's suspect nuclear program but dismantling it completely.

"I'm convinced that if we ratchet up the pressure we'll get the right deal," he said.

Bennett alleged that with 18,500 centrifuges already, Tehran could potentially make seven-and-a-half bombs a year, estimating that would give it a breakout capacity to nuclear weapons capability of only six weeks.

"Israel will never outsource its security. And our track record speaks for itself," Bennett said.

In 1981 Israeli bombs had destroyed a reactor being built by late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and "in 2007 we allegedly did the same in Syria."

"Twice we saved the world from mad men with nuclear weapons. We did so because we understood our place in history. We did so because we understood our responsibility."

Israel has never publicly acknowledged the September 2007 strike on a mystery target in the Syrian desert, believed to have been a nuclear plant.

Bennett accused Iran of planning just to sit back and "slow down the production right now and wait for an opportune moment right now when the West is busy with some crisis" and then turn it back on.

"We cannot sit quietly as the West rushes into a deal with Iran that could be catastrophic. A deal that does not dismantle Iran's nuclear program will enable the Islamic republic to become a nuclear state. That's what we call a bad deal."

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