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Drawing Red Lines Against Iran’s Nuclear Program


The dispute between Israeland the United States over how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program picked up new momentum Monday, with Israel's Finance Minister weighing in on the push to draw "red lines" that Iran's nuclear program would not be able to cross.

Yuval Steinitz, Israeli Finance Minister
Bloomberg | Getty images

Yuval Steinitz became the first Israeli official to start spelling out what a “red line” might look like, telling CNBC's "Power Lunch" it "should include any further progress toward fissile material that could be used towards making an Iranian nuclear weapon.” 

He added, “For years Iran has been cheating the world on their nuclear program.”

Steinitz's comments came after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a Bloomberg Radio interview on Sunday that the United States was not ready to talk about deadlines when it came to stopping Iran’s nuclear progress.

The White House and Israeli leaders have reportedly been discussing the possibility of drawing “red lines” Iran’s nuclear program would not be able to cross. The implication is if Iran moves beyond those yet to be agreed upon limits it would incur a U.S.-led air strike to prevent the Islamic Republic from becoming nuclear armed. (Read More: Iran Says Will Build a Nuclear Submarine—But Can It?)

Will There be War With Iran?

Steinitz's responsibilities as Israel’s Finance Minister go far beyond dealing with the economy. He sits on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s inner cabinet and the security cabinet. Both bodies would be needed to approve an Israeli strike on Iran. 

By law the cabinet would need to vote on a major Israeli military endeavor as has been the case in all of Israel’s wars and in the Israeli strikes against Iraq’s nuclear facilities in 1981 and again in the Israeli attack against Syria’s nuclear plant in 2007.

Once a set of “red lines” were to be agreed upon by the U.S. and Israel, the next step would be to create a deadline for an attack. (Read More: Markets Don't Really Get Israel-Iran Tension: Pro.)

“That should happen in a few months, no more than six months," Steinitz told CNBC. "Iran would have to expose themselves to day to day inspections and if they didn’t they would face brute force. This is the only thing that might convince the Iranians to change their attitude.”

That statement may give the group known as P5+1 — the U.S. Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — some relief as there has been fear an Israeli attack could be imminent. It also gives the negotiators  more room in their attempt to conduct talks with Iran. Those negotiations began in earnest in April of this year but after three rounds both Iran and the P5+1 admit the talks have been unproductive.

The top negotiator at the International Atomic Energy Agency Yukiya Amano has called the talks with Iran “frustrating,” according to Reuters

“We need to stop going around in circles discussing process. Iran has the obligation to fully cooperate with us," he said.

Among other things, the IAEA is trying to gain access to Parchin, an Iranian military base suspected of being the site where Iran has been conducting experiments on detonating nuclear devices. Satellite images show Iran has been “cleansing” the site with bulldozers, many intelligence agencies believe they’re covering up evidence. In the IAEA's most recent report, international nuclear inspectors said Iran has added several hundred new centrifuges in recent months allowing them to accelerate their nuclear program. 

Finance Minister Steinitz stressed Israel isn’t the only country in Iran’s crosshairs and Iran's burgeoning nuclear program shouldn’t be Israel’s to deal with alone. 

When he spoke to CNBC in February, Steinitz became the first Israeli official to release an intelligence estimate saying Iran will be able to hit the United States with ballistic missiles in the year 2015. (Read More: Israel's Business Elite Weigh Iran's Nuclear Threat.)

American intelligence officials agree that Iran’s long-range missile program is moving ahead faster than originally believed. Iran has threatened to attack U.S. troops throughout the Middle East and it unveiled a new and very accurate missile just last month called the Fatteh-110, which puts all American troops in the region in range.

—By CNBC's Jason Gewirtz