Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon speaking at annual INSS conference in Tel Aviv, May 30, 2012.
Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon speaking at annual INSS conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 30, 2012. Photo by Assaf Shilo/Israel Sun
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Iran continues to strive for a nuclear weapon since it is not convinced the West is seriously contemplating a military strike against its facilities, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon said in a conference on Wednesday, adding that Tehran was "laughing all the way to a bomb."

On Tuesday, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast warned Western countries that pressuring Tehran with sanctions while engaging in nuclear talks would jeopardise chances of reaching an agreement.

"This approach of pressure concurrent with negotiations will never work. These countries should not enter negotiations with such illusions and misinterpretations," Mehmanparast told at a news conference.

Speaking at the Institute for National Strategic Studies on Wednesday, Ya'alon said that while the world has finally increased sanctions on Iran, the Islamic Republic was pushing through in its attempt to achieve nuclear weapons capability.

"During talks with world powers, the Iranians have managed to enrich 750 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent, and 36 kilograms of uranium to 20 percent," adding: "Iran, regardless of pressure, is in the meantime laughing all the way to a bomb."

Ya'alon added that there was no sign that the Islamic Republic felt "threatened, despite economic hardships. It has yet to bring the regime to the dilemma of a bomb or survival. They're not there.

"The problem is that leaders in Tehran aren't convinced that the West is determined to go all the way, whether through sanctions or military action, since that would influence oil prices," the vice PM said.

He added that the "working assumption in Iran is that nothing will happen in 2012, since it's an elections years in the United States, since they know the West. As far as they're concerned, there's no 'green light' for an Israeli strike, so they're not coming to these talks with a sense of urgency."

"Our position is clear. As far as we're concerned, they need to forgo all enrichment, remove all enriched material and close [the nuclear facility] in Qom," Ya'alon said.

"I wish we could see more sanctions that could break the regime, but the concern is a real one. There's no doubt that the international cooperation leaves a chance to bring the regime to a dilemma, but as of now there's no sign that the Iranian regime understands that he's faced with a determined system ready to confront him," hr added.

Ya'alon added that the Middle East could "not be stabilize without dealing with the Iranian regime."

The vice PM's comments came amid reports on Wednesday, according to which new satellite images indicated new activity in the Iranian military base of Parchin, suspected to house nuclear weapons tests.

In the afternoon, a panel discussion on Iran featured INSS director Amos Yadlin, a former head of Military Intelligence; former Mossad chief Meir Dagan; and former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. All three broadly agreed on the need to prepare a military option against Iran (though Dagan sounded a bit skeptical even of that), but stressed the need to exhaust every possible alternative before deciding to use this option. Yadlin, presenting the conclusions of a team of INSS experts, said any attack on Iran would merely be the start of a prolonged effort, so Israel must make sure the international community is "ready to mobilize to continue barring Iran" from acquiring nuclear weapons thereafter. He also said certain extreme forecasts of the havoc an Iranian counterstrike would wreak on Israel's home front were exaggerated.

Ashkenazi insisted that "there's still time," and that it's vital "to first exhaust soft power" options like further sanctions on Iran. "We haven't yet exhausted diplomacy," he added.

The most vehement opponent of military action was, predictably, Dagan. "If we attack today, not only will we not delay the Iranian bomb, but we'll solve all the regime's domestic problems," he said, predicting that an Israeli attack would unite Iranians behind the regime.