Israel’s Defence Minister refused to rule out a pre-empt-ive strike on Iran
yesterday, claiming that Tehran was “close to a point of no return” on its
suspected development of a nuclear weapon.

At a meeting with journalists in London, Shaul Mofaz did little to dispel
the sense of unease caused by comments last week by the US Vice-President,
Dick Cheney, who suggested Israel might “decide to act first” to end Iran’s
nuclear threat.

Mr Mofaz said: “I believe that none of the Western countries can live with
Iran having a nuclear capability – not the US, not the European countries
and nor other countries.”

But he stressed that the “first step” should be through diplomatic channels
to resolve the standoff with Iran, suspected by the US and Israel of using
its civilian programme as a cover for weapons development.

“The way to stop Iran is by the leadership of the US, supported by European
countries and taking this issue to the UN, and using the diplomatic channel
with sanctions as a tool and a very deep inspection regime and full

Asked what Israel would do if diplomatic channels failed, Mr Mofaz went on:
“The US is a strong power that can stop any kind of nuclear programme,
especially in the hands of an extreme regime.”

The Israeli minister left no doubt, however, he was sceptical about the
outcome of negotiations with the Iranian government, which he said had been
“buying time” through talks with Britain, France and Germany.

He warned that Tehran was “less than a year” from enriching uranium, which
he described as the “point of no return” towards making a nuclear weapon.
He echoed comments by the Mossad intelligence agency, which said that Iran
could have developed a nuclear bomb in three years, a statement dismissed
by Iran as baseless. Mr Mofaz rejected Iranian assertions that it was
working on a peaceful civilian programme, saying that there was “no goal by
the Iranian side for a civilian programme. Their goal is to achieve a
military programme”.

Pressure on Iran has been increasing recently in the form of aggressive
statements from the Bush administration, branding the Tehran regime an
“outpost of tyranny”. Mr Cheney said Iran’s nuclear programme put it at the
“top of the list” of global issues


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