Israel must examine the meaning of the statement made by US Defense Secretary-designate Robert Gates the previous night on the Iranian threat, Defense Minister Amir Peretz told Israel Radio on Wednesday. Gates said Tuesday during his Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing that "if Iran obtains nuclear weapons, no one can promise that it would not use them against Israel."
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Peretz said that "stance is one thing but policy is something else."
"There is no doubt that Israel needs to make strategic decisions for the long term and the short term," added the defense minister.
Gates, who will be replacing outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, was asked by senators about the Iranian nuclear issue and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threats to wipe Israel off the map.
Gates responded by saying that the threats were very severe. However, he added that Iran had "forces who are interested in nuclear power as a deterrent against nuclear nations around them - Pakistan from the East, Russia from the North, Israel from the West and us in the Persian Gulf."
Gates said that the United States would pay an extremely high price for a military attack on either Iran or Syria.
He suggested that Iran could respond to a US attack by closing off the Persian Gulf to oil exports and to "unleash a significant wave of terror" in the Middle East, Europe and the United States itself.
While Iran has not been helpful in Iraq, the country could do a lot more to hurt US efforts there.
Also, he said, Iran's "ability to get Hizbullah to further destabilize Lebanon I think is very real."
Gates described a military attack against Iran as an "absolute last resort." The first option for the United States to deal with Iran should be diplomacy and working with allies.
"I think that we have seen, in Iraq, that once war is unleashed, it becomes unpredictable," he said.
As for Syria, Gates said a US attack on that country would unleash a wave of anti-Americanism in the Middle East.
It would have "dramatic consequences for us in Middle East," Gates said. "It would give rise to greater anti-Americanism than we have seen to date. It would immediately complicate our relations with every country in the region."