Israeli threat to strike Iran real, warns Sarkozy


SYRIA:PRESIDENT NICOLAS Sarkozy yesterday explicitly warned that Israel would bomb the Islamic Republic of Iran if it continued to enrich uranium, reports LARA MARLOWEin Damascus.

"Iran is taking a major risk by continuing the process of obtaining nuclear weapons, which is a certainty for us," Mr Sarkozy said. "Whatever government is in power in Israel, we may wake up one morning and find that Israel has struck.

"Then the problem won't be figuring out whether it's legitimate, whether it's a good idea. It will be a catastrophe and we must avoid this catastrophe."

Mr Sarkozy made the remarks in a closed session at the "dialogue for stability" summit here. The comments were addressed to the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, the Emir of Qatar and prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

Journalists in an adjoining room in the presidential palace could not hear what Mr Sarkozy said, but his voice was inadvertently transmitted to a press centre in a Damascus hotel.

The brief summit was supposed to further progress towards direct negotiations between Syria and Israel, but it was dominated by the Iranian nuclear question.

An adviser to Mr Sarkozy said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) believes the Iranian enrichment facility at Natanz has produced "quantities sufficient for half a nuclear warhead".

"Time is working against ," Mr Sarkozy said in public remarks at the close of the summit. In the closed session, he said: "Iran must stop enrichment. I've said that France would help Iran with civil nuclear energy. But Iran cannot continue enrichment and accept only partial IAEA inspections."

He opposed Iran pursuing the uranium enrichment process. "If they continue, it's a problem, but they must at least accept full inspection."

Mohamed Raad, a representative for the pro-Iranian Hizbullah in the Lebanese parliament, recently said his group would fire 11,000 missiles at Israel if the Jewish state attacked Iran.

After Hizbullah's three-week war with Israel in July-August 2006, President Assad encouraged the group to exploit its perceived victory politically.

France has 2,000 peacekeepers deployed with Unifil in southern Lebanon. The Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has promised not to attack them, but Paris fears they would be in great danger if fighting resumes between Israel and Hizbullah.

Mr Sarkozy's warnings did not seem to faze his Syrian hosts. "Any Arab will tell you it's not a big deal if Iran has nuclear weapons," said a Syrian businessman who attended Mr Sarkozy's inauguration of the Lycée Charles de Gaulle here yesterday morning. "There needs to be a balance of power in the region. The country that represents a danger, that keeps attacking people, is Israel."

There are two precedents for Israel attacking suspected nuclear installations. In 1981 Israel bombed the Osirak power plant that France was building for Iraq. Last September, Israel destroyed a complex near the Syrian-Iraqi border in a mysterious raid about which neither Israelis nor Syrians would comment.

There is speculation it was a trial run for an attack on Iran.