By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites looks â€œunavoidableâ€ given the apparent failure of sanctions to deny Tehran technology with bomb-making potential, one of Prime Minister Ehud Olmertâ€™s deputies said on Friday.
â€œIf Iran continues with its program for developing nuclear weapons, we will attack it. The sanctions are ineffective,â€ Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.
It was the most explicit threat yet against Iran from a member of Olmertâ€™s government, which, like the Bush administration, has preferred to hint at force as a last resort should U.N. Security Council sanctions be deemed a dead end.
Iran has defied Western pressure to abandon its uranium enrichment projects, which it says are for peaceful electricity generation rather than bomb-building. The leadership in Tehran has also threatened to retaliate against Israel — believed to have the Middle Eastâ€™s only atomic arsenal — and U.S. targets in the Gulf for any attack on Iran.
Mofaz also said in the interview that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map, â€œwould disappear before Israel does.â€
A spokesman for PM Ehud Olmert did not address Mofazâ€™s comments directly but said that â€œall options must remain on the tableâ€ and said more could be done to put financial pressure on Tehran.
â€œIsrael believes strongly that while the UN sanctions are positive, much more needs to be done to pressure the regime in Tehran to cease its aggressive nuclear program,â€ spokesman Mark Regev said.
â€œWe believe the international community should be considering further tangible steps such as embargoing refined petroleum headed for Iran, sanctions against Iranian businessmen traveling abroad, tightening the pressure on Iranian financial institutions and other such steps,â€ he added.
Mofazâ€™s remarks came as he and several other senior members of Olmertâ€™s Kadima Party prepare for a possible run for top office should a corruption scandal force the Israeli PM to step down.
Iranian-born Mofaz has been a main party rival of the Israeli prime minister, particularly following the 2006 elections when Olmert was forced to hand the defense portfolio to Labour, his main coalition partner, at Mofazâ€™s expense.
Mofaz, who is also designated as a deputy prime minister, has remained privy to Israelâ€™s defense planning. He is a member of Olmertâ€™s security cabinet and leads regular strategic coordination talks with the U.S. State Department.
A similar Israeli sortie over Syria last September razed what the U.S. administration said was a nascent nuclear reactor built with North Korean help. Syria denied having any such facility.
Independent analysts have questioned, however, whether Israelâ€™s armed forces can take on Iran alone, as its nuclear sites are numerous, distant and well-fortified.