Israel fails to convince U.S. of Iran threat

JERUSALEM Sat Dec 15, 2007 10:35pm GMT

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel has failed to convince the United States that Iran's nuclear programme poses a serious and immediate threat, an Israeli cabinet minister said on Saturday, following publication of a U.S. intelligence report.

Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter criticised the U.S. report, published on December 3, that said Iran had put its nuclear weapon programme on hold. He added that a U.S. "misconception" could lead to a regional war.

"We need to admit that Israel did not succeed in convincing the U.S.-leadership on the fact that an Iranian (nuclear) weapon threat is immediate and significant," Dichter, a former director of Israel's Shin Bet internal security agency, said in a speech near Tel Aviv.

"It seems that what we put before them, how we presented it, wasn't persuasive enough," he said. "It's important for Israel to keep trying to convince with facts and intelligence data."

Israel, which is thought to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, believes Iran could have a nuclear bomb by 2010 and says an Iranian nuclear weapon would threaten Israel's existence.

Israel holds regular bilateral discussions with Washington on regional issues, including Iran.

Dichter warned the entire Middle East could be caught off guard by an Iranian atomic bomb, as Israel had been surprised by a 1973 war, known in the Jewish state as the Yom Kippur War.

"We must not let a misconception develop in the United States. Such a misconception may lead to a regional Yom Kippur, where Israel is just one of the countries threatened," Dichter said.

Last week Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: "The U.S. report has created exaggerated debate ... Nothing has changed. Iran was and still is dangerous."

(Writing by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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