Israeli official criticise minister's threats against Iran

Israel Materials 8 June 2008 13:39 (UTC +04:00)

Israeli defence officials have described as "irresponsible" comments by Transport Minister and Deputy Premier Shaul Mofaz that Israel will have no choice but to attack Iran in order to prevent it from developing weapons of mass destruction, the dpa reported.

Israel Radio quoted Sunday one unnamed official as saying that Mofaz's comments, made in an interview with the Yediot Ahronot daily, do not reflect the position of the Israeli government.

"Mofaz is speaking for himself. Our policy regarding the Iranian threat is clear. It is a worldwide problem, not an Israeli one," the Ma'ariv daily quoted "a high-ranking political official" as saying.

The newspaper quoted another minister, who is a member of the inner, security, cabinet, as describing Mofaz's comments as "absolutely irresponsible."

"He is the minister of transport and his statements could be interpreted as official government policy," the minister said.

The Iranian-born Mofaz, a former defence minister, is in charge of Israel's strategic dialogue with the United States.

He is currently positioning himself for a possible challenge for the leadership of the ruling Kadima party, should an ongoing corruption investigation force Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to step down.

The Jerusalem Post daily quoted one minister as saying that the comments had to be seen within the context of the emerging political race for the leadership of Kadima, with Mofaz trying to appear more hawkish than Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the main candidate to succeed Olmert, if the prime minister resigns.

Ma'ariv quoted a high-ranking Kadima official as musing that it was "a bit chilling that a few days after the wheels of the party primary have stared to roll, Mofaz sees fit, now of all times, to threaten Iran - which, if memory serves, is not under the jurisdiction of the transport ministry, which he heads."

Israel regards Iran as its main existential threat, given Tehran's nuclear programme and the oft-repeated comments by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the Jewish state should be erased off the map.

The issue also featured in talks Olmert held in Washington with President George W Bush last week.

The Israeli leader also told the conference of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee that "international economic and political sanctions on Iran, as crucial as they may be, are only an initial step, and must be dramatically increased."

Iran meanwhile has filed a protest against Israel with the United Nations over Mofaz's comments.