Israel's defense minister urged the world Monday to agree to tough new sanctions on Iran, suggesting that military strikes remained a final option should Tehran refuse to heed U.N. Security Council demands to curb its nuclear activities.
Ehud Barak indicated Israel was prepared to wait for an unspecified period of time to give more space to world power diplomacy in trying to end Iran's nuclear defiance.
"We still believe that its time for diplomacy, tough diplomacy," Barak told reporters during an official visit on the invitation of Norbert Darabos, his Austrian counterpart. "There is a need for tough sanctions ... something that is well and coherently coordinated to include the Americans, the EU, the Chinese, the Russians, the Indians."
At the same time, he said, "we recommend to all players not to remove any options from the table," just as "we do not remove it."
Both Israel and the U.S. administration have said all options remain _ diplomatic language for military strikes _ in attempts to strip Iran of the capability of turning what it says are peaceful nuclear activities into a program geared toward making nuclear arms.
Israel in particular is growing impatient after seven years of failed attempts to strip Iran of its capacity to make nuclear weapons.
During that time, Iran has moved closer to that status, even while insisting that its atomic program is meant solely to generate energy.
Its thousands of centrifuges have produced enough enriched uranium to produce two nuclear weapons _ even though it maintains the stockpile will only be used for nuclear fuel and not for weapons-grade material.
It has only recently _ and belatedly _ revealed that it is building a second enrichment site and is stonewalling an International Atomic Energy Agency probe of allegations that it had experimented with making nuclear weapons.
As well, Iran threatened earlier this month to expand its enrichment program tenfold, while rejecting an IAEA-brokered plan to supply fuel for its research reactor if Iran exports of most of its enriched stockpile _ a move that would strip it of its warhead material.
The White House has said Iran has until the end of the month to accept that plan and Barak suggested that Israel was willing to give the U.S. more _ but not indefinite _ time in mixing outreach toward Iran with the threat of further sanctions.
"There should be a time limit for all these attempts to block them through sanctions," he told reporters, warning that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons "will clearly ... initiate a nuclear competition."
"Think of Egypt, or Turkey or Saudi Arabia," he said. "They can hardly afford not being nuclear if Iran turns ... nuclear."