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Ephraim Sneh, a member of the Knesset's Foreign
Affairs and Defense Committee and a retired general, said on Sunday that
Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons is a threat to Israel's very existence,
but said Israeli military action would be a last resort.
Sneh spoke after the London's Sunday Times reported Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's security cabinet gave "initial authorization" last month to a plan for an air and ground attack on Iran if diplomatic efforts do not halt the Islamic republic's nuclear program.
The newspaper reported that the Israel Defense Forces has built a model of Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant in order to practice assaults on the facility. Israel would reportedly make use of F-15 fighter planes and teams from the Israel Air Force's elite Shaldag unit in the attack.
According to the Sunday Times, the Israeli plans have been discussed with the United States who reportedly said they would not block an Israeli attack on Iran if international diplomatic efforts fail to halt the nuclear projects.
Sneh told Army Radio that the United States will play an important role in how the situation is resolved.
He added that Israel remains hopeful the international community will reach a diplomatic solution with the Islamic republic.
"The Iranian threat is an existential threat to the state Israel. Military action is the very last resort," he said. "We have to ensure that other steps, diplomatic steps are carried out first. Here the United States plays a leading role and I hope it will fill it."
IDF and government officials have repeatedly identified Iran as the greatest threat to Israel. They point to Iran's suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons, as well as its assistance to Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Palestinian militants who attack Israel.
Sneh, a legislator from the Labor Party, the junior member of Sharon's coalition government, did not confirm whether Israel already has plans in place to strike Iran.
Asked whether Israel has such plans, Vice Premier Shimon Peres said "I don't think so." Peres spoke as he entered the weekly cabinet meeting.
Iran vows to continue with nuclear program
Neither threats nor incentives will alter Iran's pursuit of its nuclear program, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said Saturday, defying new moves by the European Union and the United States to ensure Tehran never develops a nuclear bomb.
In a show of bluster and defiance, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi rejected overtures from the West, saying Iran would not be influenced by external pressure. Iran maintains its nuclear program is solely for the peaceful pursuit of nuclear energy.
"Iran is determined to use peaceful nuclear technology and no pressure, incentive or threat can force Iran to give up its rights," state-run radio quoted Asefi as saying.
Washington recently agreed to drop its opposition to Iran's membership in the World Trade Organization and allow some sale of spare parts for civilian aircraft.
The move was in support of a European plan to offer Tehran economic incentives to give up any nuclear weapons ambitions.
Asefi rejected Washington's move. "Lifting some restrictions against Iran will not stop Iran from pursuing its rights," Asefi was quoted as saying.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told Reuters on Friday that an Iranian nuclear bomb would be a "nightmare" for Israel and other countries.
"In our view they are very close, too close, to having the knowledge to develop this kind of bomb and that's why we should be in a hurry," Shalom said in an interview in Mexico.