Israeli officials yesterday slammed a senior minister's threat last week to strike Iran if it does not halt its nuclear drive, accusing him of using the issue for domestic political ends.
Israeli Deputy defense Minister Matan Vilnai slammed what he called Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz's "cynical use of central strategic issues for internal political reasons" in an interview with public radio.
Mofaz, the infrastructure minister and a senior member of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima party, said in a newspaper interview that "if Iran continues its nuclear weapons program, we will attack it."
"Other options are disappearing. The sanctions are not effective. There will be no alternative but to attack Iran in order to stop the Iranian nuclear program," Mofaz told Friday's edition of the top-selling Yediot Aharonot.
He stressed such an operation could only be conducted with US support.
A former defense minister and army chief, Mofaz hopes to replace embattled Ehud Olmert as prime minister and at the helm of the Kadima party.
"These declarations are irresponsible and do not represent the position of our government," said a senior defense official quoted by public radio on Sunday.
"The Iranian nuclear program is a concern for the entire international community, not only Israel. These declarations work against us because they distract attention from the main issue, which is the threat," the official added.
Israel, believed to be the region's sole if undeclared nuclear power, considers Iran its greatest threat because of the Islamic republic's accelerating nuclear program, which Tehran adamantly insists is peaceful.
Israel has also reacted strongly to repeatedly statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the Jewish state should be "wiped off the map."
Iran protested over Mofaz's remarks on Saturday in a letter to the UN Security Council and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
"The Israeli regime has been emboldened by the Security Council's indifference and... in blatant violation of the principles of the United Nations continues to threaten Iran with force," the letter said.
Israel's close ally the United States has been leading the drive to pressure Iran to halt its program and to date the Security Council has imposed three rounds of economic sanctions.