JERUSALEM – Israel will attack Iran if it doesn't abandon its nuclear program, a Cabinet minister hoping to replace embattled Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was quoted Friday as saying.
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz also said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "will disappear before Israel does," the Yediot Ahronot daily reported. Ahmadinejad has called repeatedly for Israel's destruction.
Mofaz's spokeswoman did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the remarks, which were much more explicit than anything Olmert himself has said. Olmert has gone no further than hinting that Israel was prepared to use force against Iranian nuclear facilities, saying only Tuesday that "the Iranian threat must be stopped by all means. "
According to the newspaper report, Mofaz — a former chief of staff and defense minister — has concluded that international sanctions haven't curbed Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
"If Iran continues its nuclear arms program — we will attack it," the newspaper quoted Mofaz as saying. "The sanctions aren't effective. There will be no choice but to attack Iran to halt the Iranian nuclear program."
There is a precedent for Israeli military action: In 1981, Israeli planes destroyed an unfinished Iraqi reactor.
An Israeli military strike against Iran would have U.S. backing, Mofaz was quoted as saying.
In Washington this week, Iran dominated Olmert's meetings with U.S. President George W. Bush, the Israeli leader told reporters. And Bush sought to reassure Israelis who are worried about the U.S. commitment to keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb, saying, "It's very important for the world to take the Iranian threat quite seriously, which the United States does."
Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful and designed to produce energy.
Mofaz's bellicose comments on Iran coincide with the launching of his campaign to replace Olmert as head of Israel's governing Kadima Party if a corruption probe pushes Olmert out of office. Mofaz is carving out a hawkish position, and earlier this week, spoke out against returning the Golan Heights, captured in the 1967 Mideast war, to Syria.
Syria and Israel recently disclosed they have resumed peace talks, with Turkey as go-between.
A recent poll of Kadima members showed the more centrist Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni easily besting Mofaz in a party leadership race.
Police are investigating Olmert on suspicion of bribe-taking, campaign funding violations and money laundering.
Olmert has said he would only resign if indicted. So far, no charges have been brought against him, but a key witness in the corruption scandal has accused the prime minister of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, in part to finance a lavish lifestyle.