"Israel will not let a second Holocaust happen," Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz said Friday in regard to Iran's nuclear weapons program, which he said poses an existential threat to the state of Israel.
Mofaz's statements came during a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Friday, in which he also called for further diplomatic efforts including sanctions, saying "we believe that the main direction must be diplomacy," before adding that "all options are on the table" for bringing an end to the program.
The Deputy PM said Iran was well on its way to having a nuclear weapon, and that "as soon as 2010 (Iran) will have the option to reach (uranium production) at military levels."
Mofaz was quick to point out that Israel's problem is not with the Iranian people, and told listeners of his childhood in Iran.
"I was born in Iran and I came to Israel at the age of 9. The Iranians are a very kind people, but they live under an extremist regime...This does not come from the Iranian people, but from the Iranian leadership."
Mofaz also told listeners about Israel Radio's Farsi-language show which is broadcast in Iran. Mofaz offered an anecdote from one of the times he was on the program and spoke to Iranian callers.
"I had an opportunity to speak with an Iranian taxi driver and one of the questions he asked me was 'why dont you [Israel] come rescue us from this regime?' So now you understand the difference between the Iranian people and the regime."
He added that the extremism of Iran's regime poses a threat not only to Israel, but also to "the United States, Europe, and the world as a whole." He accused the regime of giving assistance to terrorist groups including Hamas, helping them gain the means to attack Israeli targets.
"My opinion and my goal will be to continue to speak to the Syrians without preconditions," Mofaz said in a speech Friday.
"The way is - peace for peace."
Mofaz's speech came a day after a meeting Thursday with senior U.S. officials in Washington, in which he raised "strong concerns" over the administration's recent diplomatic overtures to Iran, which are occuring as the country pursues its nuclear weapons program.
According to his spokeswoman, Mofaz told U.S. leaders to be "firm" with Iran over its contentious nuclear program.
In a shift of policy, U.S. diplomat Nicholas Burns joined envoys from other world powers for a July 19 meeting with an Iranian delegate at which his country was given two weeks to answer calls to curb uranium enrichment or face more sanctions.
The turnaround raised eyebrows in Israel, which has long looked to its U.S. ally to lead efforts to isolate Iran.
Since the multi-party talks in Geneva, Iran has said it would press ahead with its nuclear plans. Israel has increased the stakes in the diplomatic standoff by hinting it could resort to military strikes against its arch-foe's nuclear sites.
Mofaz was hosted by Burns on Thursday for routine bilateral consultations known as the "strategic dialogue."
Mofaz's spokeswoman, Talia Somech, said he used the forum, as well as separate meetings with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to raise Israel's objections to the direct U.S.-Iranian talks.
"It wasn't a matter of leveling outrage, but of voicing Israel's strong concerns," she said.
"He (Mofaz) urged the Americans to set firm conditions, such as a refusal to allow the Iranians to enrich uranium on their turf, and to be clear that the deadline must be preserved. The Iranians are simply looking for cracks to exploit."
The West accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian program. Iran denies it, and has stirred regional war jitters by vowing to retaliate for any attack by targeting Israel and U.S. assets in the Gulf.
The State Department issued a statement after the Mofaz-Burns meeting that said nothing about the possibility of using force against Iran.
"The United States and Israel share deep concern about Iran's nuclear program, and the two delegations discussed steps to strengthen diplomatic efforts and financial measures to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability," the statement said.
It gave no details of the measures discussed.
"We also reaffirmed our strong mutual determination to counter Iran's support for terrorism," said the statement, which the State Department said was being issued by both the United States and Israel.
Israel, which is believed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal, says a nuclear-armed Iran could threaten its existence.
Mofaz, a former defense minister, is considered a possible successor to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who plans to quit after his party chooses a new leader in September.
Elaborating on a now standard Israeli call, Mofaz said during his Washington talks that "all options against Iran should not only be on table, but prepared," Somech said.
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