Impose crippling sanctions on Iran or we'll attack -- Israel
Israel will today call for tightened sanctions on Iran against a background of international concern that the alternative could be Benjamin Netanyahu's government ordering a military strike on Tehran's nuclear facilities.
As details emerged of the most critical report yet on Iran's nuclear programme from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Israel's defence minister, Ehud Barak, kept alive the military threat and played down the consequences of any Iranian counter-attack.
Mr Barak stressed that no decision had yet been taken to launch a military operation. He insisted that "we don't want war" and ridiculed as "outlandish" the idea that he and Mr Netanyahu would drag the country into a conflict with Iran without first securing the backing of a "large cabinet forum".
But Mr Barak was almost as dismissive in an interview with Israel Radio of what he called a "campaign of fear" in which some critics had warned that retaliation by Iran for a strike could cost as many as 100,000 Israeli lives.
"I tell you there won't be 100,000 casualties, and not 10,000 casualties and not 1,000 casualties," he declared. "And Israel won't be destroyed."
Expressing scepticism that Russia and China would agree to sanctions sufficiently drastic to halt the Iranian programme, Mr Barak added: "As long as no such sanctions have been imposed, we continue to recommend to our friends in the world and to ourselves, not to take any option off the table."
Mr Barak's remarks came as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev accused Israel of using "dangerous rhetoric". He said: "The threat of a military strike could lead to a major war," adding it was vital to "take a deep breath and open talks".
And Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, said his government opposed military action because "it would seriously destabilise the region".
The latest verbal sallies on the eve of the publication of the IAEA's report -- including a call by Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmedinijad, for the US and Israel "to stop and be ashamed" of their threats -- followed a warning by former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Israel's insistence on retaining the military option should be taken seriously.
Joining the call for tightened sanctions, she said: "I don't have any doubt that the Israelis will defend themselves if the Iranians look as if they really are about to cross that nuclear threshold."
Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's foreign minister, was quoted by 'Maariv' yesterday as saying that if the US failed to lead an "initiative of crippling sanctions, this will mean that the US and the West have accepted a nuclear Iran". He said this meant targeting Iran's central bank and hobbling its entire oil, fuel and gas industries. (© Independent News Services)