Israel-Iran Escalate War of Words Ahead of Olmert-Bush Meeting

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire are expected to dominate the conversation when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert meets with President Bush in Washington on Monday.

Olmert last visited the White House six months ago, before going to war with Hizballah in Lebanon and before the Democratic takeover of Congress.

Iran and Israel traded barbs over the weekend ahead of the meeting. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini said on Sunday that Iran would deliver a crushing blow to Israel if the Jewish state attacks Iran.

"Currently, Israel does not have the potential to threaten the Islamic Republic of Iran," Hosseini said on Sunday. "Israel's domestic and military status is thoroughly fragile," he said, but if Israel "dares to" make any move against Iran, "the Iranian military would give it a decisive and crushing response immediately."

Hosseini's comments followed comments by Israel's Deputy Defense Minister Efraim Sneh, who said preemptive military action against Iran should be a last resort. "But even the last resort is sometimes the only resort," he was quoted as saying in an interview with the Jerusalem Post last week.

Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations Muhammad Javad Zarif sent a letter of complaint to the United Nations over the weekend, highlighting Sneh's comments and those of other Israeli officials. He complained that Iran regarded the comments as "illegal, ridiculous and a sign of the Zionist regime's criminal policies and terrorist intentions."

Iran is under threat of U.N. sanctions for refusing to halt uranium enrichment - a process used to make nuclear fuel and also necessary for making an atomic bomb.

The U.S., Israel and many Western nations believe that Iran is covertly developing nuclear weapons under the guise of a nuclear program to produce electricity. Iran says its nuclear ambitions are entirely peaceful in nature.

Despite the threat of U.N. sanctions, Israel is concerned that the Security Council is wasting precious time in dealing with Iran -- allowing Tehran to continue its pursuit of atomic weapons unhindered.

Olmert said in an interview with Newsweek that Iran would agree to a compromise, only if Tehran started "to fear" an international response.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said the international community is dragging its feet by negotiating Iran.

"The U.N. resolution said very clearly in July, stop the enrichment or face sanctions," said Livni. The deadline expired August 31. "And here we are in November, and still we are talking about the next resolution for 'soft sanctions.'"

Asked in a radio interview on Monday about Israel's tipping point regarding Iran, Livni said, "There are those who think the red line is the day [Iran] gets the bomb," said Livni. "We don't think that. The critical day for us is the day that they master the technology."

Israeli experts have said it would be much more difficult for Israel to mount a military strike against Iran than it for Israel to bomb Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981.

Iran has spread its nuclear sites across the country, and many of them are underground. They also say the U.S. is much better equipped than Israel to mount such a military operation.

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