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Sanctions against Iran are unlikely to work, so Israel must be prepared to thwart Teheran's drive for a nuclear capability "at all costs," Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh has told the Post.
"I am not advocating an Israeli preemptive military action against Iran, and I am aware of all of its possible repercussions," Sneh stressed. "I consider it a last resort. But even the last resort is sometimes the only resort."
In the most dramatic comments to date by a senior government member on the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear program, the former IDF brigadier-general described an untenable scenario of Israel "living under a dark cloud of fear from a leader committed to its destruction."
He said he was afraid that, under such a threat, "most Israelis would prefer not to live here; most Jews would prefer not to come here with their families; and Israelis who can live abroad will. People are not enthusiastic about being scorched."
Thus the danger, Sneh elaborated, was that Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would "be able to kill the Zionist dream without pushing a button. That's why we must prevent this regime from obtaining nuclear capability at all costs."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Thursday night that Iran posed a serious threat that needed to be addressed with a cool head.
"There is no issue that I deal with more intensively than the Iranian problem," he told a Kadima meeting in Petah Tikva. But he cautioned against creating panic among the public.
"We have to handle the issue with coolheadedness and wisdom," he said. "Even the Russians don't want a nuclear Iran. We have to talk to everyone and remind them of the danger of a Muslim extremist nation using a nuclear weapon to harm another nation. The big countries have to lead and we have to push them."
Sneh said he still hoped the international community would institute effective sanctions against Iran, but that "the chances are not high... My working assumption is that they won't succeed."
Interviewed in his Knesset office, Sneh said his priority was to define Israel's national goals, including "preparing the IDF for victory in the next round with Iran and its proxies."
High on the list was the need to improve the country's defense systems, he said. "We developed and produced the Arrow, the only system that can intercept nuclear missiles. Depending on the altitude, when intercepted, the warheads do not detonate. But Israel needs to substantially improve its indigenous long-range capacities."
Sheera Claire Frenkel contributed to this report.
The full interview with Sneh appears in Features.