Livni Brands Iran 'Neighborhood Bully'

The war of words between Israel, Iran and the United States, flared up yesterday: Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni branded Iran the "neighborhood bully." The day before Iran's supreme leader was quoted as saying that U.S. President George Bush and his advisers were acting erratically and sound mentally ill.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visiting Rome for a United Nations conference on the world food crisis, declared on Monday that Israel will soon disappear, and that the "satanic power" of America faced destruction. Yesterday Ahmadinejad said: "People like my comments, because people will save themselves from the imposition of the Zionists. European peoples have suffered the greatest damage from Zionists and today the costs of this false regime, be they political or economic costs, are on Europe's shoulders."

Livni made her pointed reference to Iran during an appearance before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. "We want to make clear that this region is one in which you either beat the neighborhood bully, or you join him," said the foreign minister. "Dialogue with Iran on the part of world figures will influence the entire moderate camp in the region. All hesitation creates an image of weakness."

Livni added: "Iran needs to understand the threat of a military move exists and is not being taken off the table. The more this is made clear, the less the need to put it to use, later on. "

Turning to talks with the Palestinian Authority, the foreign minister said that agreements on security issues were critical. "Security needs to be detailed in every agreement. An agreement can't be reached without agreeing on security issues," said Livni. "Israel can't permit herself to just throw the keys to the other side and hope for the best," she said.

On Monday, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said his country would not bow to Western pressure and stop its nuclear program. He reserved unusual criticism for Bush and his advisers.

"Sometimes they threaten, sometimes they order assassinations ... and sometimes they ask for help - it's like mad people staggering to and fro," he said.

The chief of the UN nuclear watchdog agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, said on Monday that Iran seemed to be holding back information needed to clarify intelligence reports that it researched nuclear bombs in secret and he demanded "full disclosure" by Tehran.