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Israeli PM warns of 'severe steps' against Iran

AFP | January 24, 2007

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday warned that if the world's diplomatic efforts to stop Iran's nuclear programme fail, then "much more severe steps" should be taken.

"It is clear to everyone that a diplomatic solution to the Iranian issue is the preferred solution. We also prefer such an outcome," Olmert said in a keynote speech on the last day of the annual conference on Israel's national security in the town of Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv.

If the world turns "a blind eye now, while ignoring reality... those of us who wish to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power will, down the road, not be left with any choice but to take much more severe steps in the future," he said.

Israel and the West accuse Iran of seeking to acquire an atomic bomb through its nuclear programme, which Tehran insists is solely for peaceful purposes.

Coupled with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, Israel -- considered the sole nuclear power in the Middle East -- has come to consider the Islamic republic as an existential threat.

"Anyone who threatens us, who threatens our existence, must know that we have the determination and capability to defend ourselves, responding with force, discretion and with all means at our disposal," Olmert said.

But he also reassured the Isaeli public that "as serious as the Iranian threat is, the threat of a nuclear attack on Israel is in no way imminent."

He welcomed United Nations Security Council Resolution 1703, passed last month, which calls for sanctions against Iran for non-compliance over its nuclear programme of uranium enrichment.

"Iran is very vulnerable and sensitive to international pressure, despite its defiant, arrogant and provocative stance, and it is already paying the ever-increasing price for its behaviour," Olmert said.

On Sunday a senior US official told the Herzliya conference that the pressure exerted by the United States and the international community on Iran over its nuclear programme had put Tehran on the defensive.

"Iran is no longer on the offensive but on the defensive and we have to keep it on the defensive," Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said. "Iran has to learn how to respect the power and the will of the international community."

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