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(Updates with Iranian commander quote in eighth paragraph.)
Feb. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who yesterday announced plans to visit the U.S. in March, said turmoil in neighboring Arab states and threats from Iran show that Israel must build up its military.
“In such a region, the only thing that ensures our existence, security and prosperity is our strength,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet in Jerusalem in remarks broadcast on Israel Radio. “We are obligated to continue to develop the military, economic and social strength of the state of Israel.”
Israeli leaders have been warning publicly that time is running out for a military strike that could stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. U.S. President Barack Obama said on NBC News yesterday that “our preferred solution is diplomatic but we’re not going to take any actions off the table.”
“I don’t think that Israel has made a decision on what they need to do,” Obama told NBC. Obama said the two countries have “closer military and intelligence consultation than ever before” and “we are going to work in lockstep to try to solve this, hopefully diplomatically.”
Netanyahu will visit Washington in early March and speak at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, according to an announcement. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives in the U.S. today for a series of meetings with government officials, his office said.
The Israeli prime minister clashed with Obama during a visit to the White House last May over the issue of negotiating borders with the Palestinians. He was later given 29 standing ovations when he addressed a joint meeting of Congress.
Iranian Cruise Missile
Iran has said it won’t give up its nuclear program, which it says is for civilian purposes and not for developing weapons. The country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned Feb. 3 that a strike would damage U.S. interests in the Middle East “10 times over,” the Associated Press reported.
Iran will never be the initiator of a war though its response to aggression will be “crushing,” Brigadier-General Mohammad Pakpour, the head of ground forces for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, said yesterday, according to state- run Press TV news channel.
Iran has been developing its arsenal of conventional weapons and has started to mass produce a new, short-range, naval cruise missile, the Zafar, Tehran Times reported, citing Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi.
The Zafar is a short-range, anti-ship, radar-guided cruise missile which can be installed on various types of vessels and is able to hit small- and medium-size targets with high precision, Vahidi said, according to the newspaper.
Referring to Israel as a “cancerous tumor” that will be cut, Khamenei said in his Friday, Feb. 3, sermon that “if any nation or any group confronts the Zionist regime, we will help.”
The acting commander of the Guards, Brigadier-General Hossein Salami, said yesterday that “any location that may be used by the enemies to launch an attack against Iran will face retaliatory aggression by units of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.” His remarks were reported by the state-run Fars news agency.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy told a political journal that Iran may face military action by Israel if it doesn’t stop its threats and nuclear program.
“We know that some in Israel are seriously considering” military intervention, Sarkozy said in an interview with the quarterly Politique Internationale published yesterday. “If Iran continues its senseless race to get the bomb and continues to threaten its neighbors, we are facing the risk of a military intervention,” he said.
At a security conference in Munich, Germany, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu yesterday said a military strike against Iran’s nuclear installations “will create a disaster.” Davutoglu said negotiations between Iran and the West would be preferable to military action.
Netanyahu told his Cabinet that Middle East peace efforts also require Israel to bolster its military.
“This is the only guarantee for the existence of peace and the only defense for Israel should the peace unravel,” Netanyahu said. “Developing Israel’s strength is this government’s main issue.”
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Feb. 2 that Israel must consider conducting “an operation” before Iran reaches an “immunity zone,” referring to Iran’s goal of protecting its uranium enrichment and other nuclear operations by moving them to deep underground facilities.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declined to comment directly on a report by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius that Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June. Panetta and other U.S. officials have repeatedly warned Israel not to act alone.
--With assistance from Ladane Nasseri in Dubai, Jonathan Tirone in Munich, Helene Fouquet in Paris and Hans Nichols and Roxana Tiron in Washington. Editors: Louis Meixler, Ann Hughey, Andrew Atkinson.
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