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Published: Tuesday December 3, 2013 MYT 9:20:01 PM
Updated: Tuesday December 3, 2013 MYT 9:21:10 PM

Netanyahu ally urges more cautious tone with U.S

Israel's Finance Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, Energy Minister Silvan Shalom and (not pirctured) in Jerusalem June 19, 2013. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Israel's Finance Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, Energy Minister Silvan Shalom and (not pirctured) in Jerusalem June 19, 2013. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should take the heat out of his row with U.S. President Barack Obama, his top coalition partner said on Tuesday, warning that the spat over Iran was not helping Israel.

"I think we have to lower the flames with the Americans," said Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who heads the second largest party in the government. "This confrontation isn't good and it also doesn't serve our goal," he told Army radio.

Relations between Israel and Washington, traditionally the closest of allies, have soured over the past month, with Netanyahu openly criticising Obama for backing a world powers' deal aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear activities.

Some analysts and commentators have said the dispute has pushed relations between the two countries to their worst level in more than 20 years, causing unease in Israel which relies heavily on military and diplomatic support from Washington.

Lapid said he agreed the Iran interim accord was not good, backing the generally held view in Israel that it let Tehran off the hook just as economic sanctions were hurting, but said Netanyahu needed to air his frustrations in private.

"This is the best way to do it and so it has always been. You sit behind closed doors and speak about it quietly," he said, echoing comments made by opposition politicians.

Israel fears Iran is seeking to develop nuclear arms, something Tehran denies, and has threatened to attack the Islamist republic unless the atomic programme is dismantled.

An opinion poll published late Monday by the Tel Aviv University-Israel Democracy Institute Peace Index, showed that 77 percent of Israelis do not believe that the world power deal will lead to the end of Iran's nuclear weapons programme.

Seventy-one percent of Israelis thought the United States was still their closest ally, although 49 percent said Israel needed to find new partners to reduce their dependence on Washington.

INNER CIRCLE

U.S. officials have sought to calm Israeli nerves, saying they will push for a comprehensive deal with the Iranians at the next round of negotiations, repeating past pledges that they will not let Tehran develop an atomic bomb.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was due to arrive in Israel on Wednesday for yet another round of talks centred on Iran and also faltering Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

A diplomatic source said Kerry and Netanyahu had a furious discussion at their last meeting in Israel on November 8, with advisers from both sides asked to leave the room.

There is little sign that the conversation will be much warmer this time around.

At least two local newspapers published articles on Tuesday quoting Israeli officials lambasting Obama's inner circle and defending Netanyahu's outspoken handling of the Iran issue.

Israel Hayom daily, which is very close to Netanyahu's rightist political camp, quoted an official in the prime minister's office comparing the current situation with the 1930s, when Jews warned of the risked posed by Nazi Germany.

"Seventy-five years ago, when there was no (Israeli) state, the Jews tried to talk with American President Roosevelt behind closed doors, and that did not really help the Jews of Europe," the unnamed official said.

Netanyahu has compared the showdown with Iran to the build up to World War Two, with some of his supporters putting the recent Geneva accord on a par with the 1938 Munich Agreement, when Britain and France tried to avoid conflict with Germany.

(Additional reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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