msnbc.com news services
updated 10/23/2006 9:34:50 AM ET 2006-10-23T13:34:50

Iran must be prevented from attaining nuclear weapons, and its threats to destroy Israel must not be taken lightly, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday.

“We have to prepare for the struggle to prevent this capability being attained,” Olmert told a business conference, referring to the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon. “This struggle is not just Israel’s, it is not first and foremost Israel’s.”

Israel considers Iran to be the greatest threat to its survival, and rejects Tehran’s claim that its nuclear program is peaceful.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for the Jewish state’s destruction, and Iran already has missiles capable of carrying payloads to Israel.

Ahmadinejad said on Monday that Western powers were wrong if they thought Iran would retreat under political pressure from its nuclear plans.

“They (the West) should know that taking advantage of nuclear energy is the demand of all the Iranian nation ... All the Iranian nation insists on this right and will not retreat one iota,” Ahmadinejad said in a televised speech.

Olmert has raised the heat of Israel’s anti-Iran rhetoric in recent days, warning last week that Tehran would have “a price to pay” if it does not back down from its atomic ambitions.

Olmert did not specifically threaten to cripple the nuclear program in a military strike, as Israel did 25 years ago in Iraq when it bombed an unfinished reactor there. But he has been saying the Iranians “have to be afraid” of the consequences of their intransigence.

The prime minister did say Monday that Ahmadinejad’s threats against Israel must not be disregarded.

“It is inconceivable that ... a member of the United Nations continues to be received throughout the world as a legitimate leader while he stands up and says another U.N. member state should be wiped off the map,” he said.

“We shall never repeat the mistakes of 60 years ago, of taking things lightly, ignoring what was being heard then when it was still possible to save lives,” he added, in an allusion to the Nazi genocide of 6 million Jews in Europe.

Military experts have questioned Israel’s ability to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, which are scattered among installations, with some underground. But they have said Israel could set the program back years by striking several of the sites.

Support for U.N. sanctions against Iran has grown among members of the Security Council after weeks of talks between the European Union and Iran failed to persuade Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment, which can be a key process in bomb-building.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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