Sunday, January 22, 2006

Iran turns up heat in nuclear war of words

Ben Lynfield and Mike Theodoulou, The Scotsman:
IRAN yesterday warned Israel it would be making a "fatal mistake" if it took military action against Tehran's nuclear programme. READ MORE

The warning came as part of escalating verbal warfare between the two regional rivals, with Shaul Mofaz, Israel's Iranian-born defence minister, saying Israel would not let Iran acquire nuclear capability.

"We are giving priority at this stage to diplomatic action, but we cannot tolerate a nuclear option for Iran and we must prepare ourselves," Mr Mofaz said.

Iran's Foreign Ministry yesterday branded Mr Mofaz's comments "a form of psychological warfare".

A spokesman said: "Israel knows how much of a fatal mistake it would be [to attack Iran]. This is just a childish game by Israel.".

But speakers at a seminar in Israel yesterday voiced suggestions ranging from a show of military force to bombing Iran's nuclear installations.

"Only a show of force by the entire world, including the United States and, afterwards, Israel, will be effective in doing away with Iran's acquiring nuclear capability," said Yitzhak Ben-Rafael, an army reserves general who teaches at Tel Aviv University.

Ephraim Sneh, an MP from the opposition Labour Party, said: "The state of Israel is on a collision course with the Iranian regime."

Tensions between the two countries are given a bizarre twist by the fact that several senior Israelis are from Iran.

Mr Mofaz was born in Garmsar, south-east of Tehran, as was the hardline Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map".

And he is advised by Dan Halutz, Israel's former air-force commander and now chief of staff, whose parents were born in Iran. Moshe Katsav, Israel's president, is another Iranian-born Farsi-speaker.

Meanwhile, Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Iraqi cleric, said yesterday that his Mahdi army would help to defend Iran if it were attacked by a foreign nation.

"The Mahdi army is beyond the Iraqi army. It was established to defend Islam," he said.