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updated 5/13/2009 8:06:01 PM ET 2009-05-14T00:06:01

Israel's anxieties about Iran have intensified because of its nuclear enrichment programs under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who talks of erasing Israel from the map.

Even as Israel deals with rocket fire from Palestinian areas, the idea that Iran could pulverize Israel with nuclear weapons is taking priority in strategic planning.

And it could take priority when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees President Barack Obama at the White House next week.

On the defensive about his unwillingness to see the Palestinians carve a state out of land Israel won in the 1967 war with the Arabs, the Israeli leader may try to shift the focus to Iran and work his way out of a diplomatic corner.

No one questions that the concern is real and that it is shared by the United States. "We have no doubt" of Iran's objective, and the United States has the same intelligence, an Israeli security official, Brig. Gen. Michael Herzog, said here last week.

Nuclear Iran ‘unacceptable’
And there is little doubt Israel has the nuclear means to attack Iran. "When we say a nuclear Iran is unacceptable, we mean it," Herzog said at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Obama's strategy, by contrast, is more fine-tuned. He is hoping to entice Iran into direct talks with the United States that might begin to reverse three decades of enmity. European diplomacy has failed to divert Iran from a nuclear program it claims is aimed not at weapons but energy. American diplomacy may carry more weight.

Egypt, meanwhile, has been pushing hard and without success the principle of a nuclear-free Mideast. Given the tensions now, President Hosni Mubarak could stress this theme on his visit here May 26.

If the idea catches fire, it would have the special glow of possibly halting Iran's enrichment program, which Herzog said would reach the breakout point at the end of next year or early 2011, as well as Israel's program.

Netanyahu, obviously, would be no more inclined than Ahmadinejad to give up his country's assumed nuclear strength.

Everyone's worry list
But with Iran's nuclear efforts on everyone's worry list, Netanyahu might try to shift the discussion from Obama's demand for a Palestinian state to how to pursue U.S. diplomacy with Iran in a way that makes the Middle East safer.

The Israeli leader is still feeling out the Obama administration and could be a tad nervous about the new president when they meet Tuesday. He may want reassurance that Obama would not shortchange Israel on the nuclear issue.

Major Arab states are nearly as restless with Iran as they are intent on achieving Palestinian statehood. They have waited so long for a Palestinian state they may be prepared to wait a bit longer while Iran's nuclear program is addressed.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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