Michele Chabin, Special for USA TODAY
JERUSALEM - Israel plans to warn the world about letting up on Iran's nuclear program when it addresses the United Nations next week and will likely reject any attempts by Arab nations to have it make public its assumed nuclear weapons capabilities, experts say.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday comes after Iran told Western nations on Thursday that it is prepared to resume talks over its nuclear program.
Yuval Steinitz, the head of the Israeli delegation at the United Nations, said Iran President Hasan Rouhani is trying "to smile his way to the bomb."
"The man is an expert with tricks," Steinitz, Israel's minister for strategic and intelligence affairs, told AFP news agency. "Instead of saying that Iran will finally comply with the Security Council resolutions, it tries to shift attention to Israel."
Steinitz was referring to Rouhani's call in his U.N. speech for the abolition of all nuclear weapons and urged Israel to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which obligates signers to open up their nuclear facilities to outside inspectors. Iran has signed the treaty, Israel has not.
Israel is assumed by many nations to possess nuclear weapons, though Israeli officials will neither confirm nor deny their existence. Israel's decision to maintain "ambiguity" on the nuclear question is a central part of its strategic defense strategy, analysts say.
Karl Dewey, an expert on weapons proliferation at IHS Jane's Intelligence Review, a London-based publication, says Israel's stance allows it "to enjoy the benefits of state security, but without necessarily attracting the international condemnation of developing nuclear weapons."
Israel's nuclear weapons program "boosts otherwise limited (conventional) military resources," Dewey says, and, in the absence of strong regional allies, "would allow it to act aggressively against hostile neighboring Arab states and sub-state organizations, most of which still reject its right to exist," Dewey said.
Israel developed its nuclear weapons program after numerous attempts by Arab armies to destroy it. Since becoming a state in 1948, Israel has faced multiple threats to its security including all-out wars in 1948, 1967 and 1973.
In recent years, Israel fought a war against Hezbollah in Lebanon and in 2012, a short-lived war against Hamas in Gaza to stop the terror group from firing rockets into Israeli cities and towns.
Israeli experts say there is a difference between Israel and Iran having nuclear bombs.
Emily Landau, director of the arms control program at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, says Israel developed its nuclear program - probably in the late 1960s to early 1970s - solely for defensive purposes.
Since that time "it has been communicated to Israel's neighbors that these weapons are for one scenario only: to deter an existential threat toward Israel."
Netanyahu has said several times that Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran to be just such a threat to Israel's existence.
Landau says the fact that Israel has fought so many conventional wars without the nuclear issue coming into play "is the best proof that it's a deterrent policy against those states and entities that seek Israel's destruction."
Landau predicts that Arab countries will intensify their longstanding attempts to pressure Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, whose members must relinquish all nuclear weapons as a precondition for membership.
Israel, she says, won't even consider doing so.
"It would be tantamount to a demand for immediate disarmament. I don't' think any nation facing the threats Israel faces would agree to that kind of arrangement," Landau says.
On Tuesday at the U.N., Netanyahu intends to make the case for increased sanctions on Iran to ends its quest for nuclear weapons in a peaceful manner. But Iran has been pursuing nuclear technology for decades, and the latest report from the U.N.'s nuclear agency is that it is unable to confirm Iran's claim that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Israel has warned that it may take unspecified military action against Iran if the United States and other Western powers fail to pressure Iran through negotiations and sanctions to curtail its nuclear program fails.
President Obama has also said all options are on the table to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. But given his reticence to back up his threat of military strikes against Syria over its use of chemical weapons against a rebellion, many in Israel worry that Iran will not see his threat as credible.
A year ago, Netanyahu warned the General Assembly that time was running out to persuade Iran to open up its nuclear program to inspection. He will re-emphasize that message Tuesday and in talks with Obama in Washington set for Monday, his aides say.
Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan says now is the time to strengthen the sanctions, which appear to have affected Tehran adversely and may be why it is seeking to open up talks.
"The worst thing would be to stop the sanctions. Our goal is convincing the world that now is the time to continue and not to weaken the sanctions," Erdan told the Jerusalem Post.
Israel is not opposed to diplomacy, Erdan said. But it worries that renewed dialogue with Tehran would take pressure off the West to pressure Iran economically to capitulate on the nuclear issue.
Erdan told the Post that Rouhani was elected on promises he made to improve the economic situation in Iran, which he can only do if sanctions are repealed.