Sharon downplays nuclear strike on Iran
Wednesday September 15, 2004 13:39 - (SA)
JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says Iran and its nuclear ambitions represent "a very great danger" to the Jewish state but played down the prospect of a pre-emptive strike on its atomic facilities.
"Iran constitutes a very great danger, due to its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and means of launching them," Sharon said in an interview with the Yediot Aharonot daily.
"This is a country where the moderates speak in terms of destroying Israel and the Jewish people, and in fact engage in terror."
Tehran insists its nuclear programme, currently being scrutinised by the UN nuclear watchdog, is strictly limited to meeting energy needs.
But the head of Israel's military intelligence, General Aharon Zeevi, claimed earlier this week that Tehran could be in a position next year to develop nuclear weapons without outside help.
Asked if that meant Israel needed to carry out a pre-emptive strike against Iran, similar to the one launched against Iraq's French-built Osirak reactor in 1981, Sharon said that times had changed and instead called for the threat posed by Iran to be addressed by the United Nations.
"Menahem Begin (the Israeli prime minister at the time of the Osirak bombing) made a very brave decision," Sharon said. "I had great influence on that decision."
"In the meantime, things have changed. Israel is not leading the campaign against Iran's nuclear armament."
"What Israel needs are protective means and deterrent ability. The world must put heavy pressure on Iran, economic and diplomatic pressure. We have not yet reached the point of no return. We must bring this matter to the UN Security Council."
Israeli deputy chief of staff General Dan Halutz also called for more international pressure to be exerted on Iran but said a time could come when Israel had to take matters into its own hands.
"We will rely on other parties for the moment but only up to a point when we will have to rely only on ourselves," Halutz told the paper.
Sharon's government has come to regard Iran as its greatest enemy since the downfall of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq last year.
Israel itself refuses to confirm it has a nuclear arsenal but is estimated to possess some 200 warheads. Unlike Iran, it has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.