Monday, December 05, 2005

Netanyahu warns of Iran nuclear threat


Ex-prime minister says Israel should take ‘bold and courageous’ action Updated: 5:59 p.m. ET Dec. 4, 2005

JERUSALEM - Israel should take “bold and courageous” action against arch-foe Iran’s nuclear program, similar to its 1981 air strike on the main Iraqi atomic reactor, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday.

The frontrunner to head Israel’s right-wing Likud Party ahead of March 28 elections, Netanyahu has been drawing battle lines with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who last week voiced hope that foreign diplomacy would prevent Iran getting the bomb.

“It must be understood that Iran cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear threat against Israel,” Netanyahu told Israel Radio.

“I will pursue the legacy of (Prime Minister) Menachem Begin, who through a bold and courageous move did not allow a neighbor of Iran, Iraq, to develop such a threat. I believe that this is what Israel should do,” he said.

Believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear power, Israel under Begin sent warplanes to bomb the Iraqi reactor in Osiraq in 1981. Saddam Hussein’s quest for nuclear arms was driven underground until U.N. inspectors uncovered a secret program a decade later.

Independent experts believe Israel, perhaps with U.S. support, could mount a similar strike against Iran, though its facilities are numerous, dispersed and well-defended.

Iran, the world’s fourth-biggest oil producer, says its nuclear program is for energy needs only. It has vowed to retaliate against any attack.

Netanyahu said he was calling for “any action necessary to prevent a situation in which Iran threatens us with nuclear weapons”.

Tensions between Iran and Israel escalated after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called in October for the Jewish state to be “wiped off the map”. Iran later said the remarks, which drew global censure, did not constitute a threat.

Sharon said on Thursday that Israel could not accept the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran but steered clear of directly threatening military action.

Sharon reaffirmed Israel’s support for diplomatic efforts, led by the United States and the European Union, to curb Iranian uranium enrichment -- a key step for creating nuclear arms.

Israeli officials have said that, unless stopped, Iran will achieve the know-how to build a bomb by March next year. Independent estimates have put Iran years away from such a capability.


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