(Recasts with Israel’s Livni, Japanese PM)
By Phil Stewart
ROME, June 3 (Reuters) - Israel will cease to exist with or without the involvement of Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday, and Israel branded Iran a “neighbourhood bully” that must be met with firmness.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told a closed door meeting of Israeli lawmakers in Jerusalem that the international community must take decisive action on Iran and reiterated that military action was an option.
On Monday, Ahmadinejad said in Tehran that the “satanic power” of the United States faced destruction and that the Jewish state would soon disappear from the map, a theme he returned to on Tuesday.
“This will happen whether we are involved in it or not,” he told a news conference at a U.N. food summit in Rome, adding that Israel was “doomed to go”.
At a closed-door meeting of the Israeli parliament’s security and foreign affairs committee in Jerusalem, Livni said the international community must send a strong signal to nations in the Middle East that are undecided on which camp to join.
“These are decisive days and the inability to build an international consensus against Iran will be interpreted in our region as weakness,” an official present at the meeting quoted Livni as saying.
“The military option needs to be kept on the table. Making clear the option is on the table may in the future mean it is less likely to be used,” she said. Livni referred to Iran as the “neighborhood bully”.
No other details of her comments were available.
Israel, an undeclared nuclear power, regards Iran’s potential possession of atomic weapons as a grave security threat, concerns fanned by Ahmedinejad’s rhetoric.
Reiterating that Iran’s nuclear programme was for peaceful purposes, Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday the United States was using it as an excuse to prepare an attack.
“President (George W.) Bush is very much interested in a military attack against Iran,” he said.
“The Iranian people are the most peace-loving nation of the world but we believe that peace can be durable and meaningful only when it is based on justice.”
Iran did not fear a U.S. attack and the president said he did not think Bush would be able to justify one before leaving office in January.
The United States, which severed ties with Iran shortly after its 1979 Islamic revolution, is leading efforts to isolate Tehran over its disputed nuclear programme, which the West suspects is a front for developing atomic bombs.
Iran says its programme is aimed only at generating electricity and rejected a Japanese offer on Tuesday to share its energy efficient technology with Iran in return for a halt to nuclear enrichment.
“If Iran said it would halt nuclear enrichment, it would be opening a window to international society and Japan would also be able to provide technical cooperation,” a Japanese official quoted Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda as telling Ahmadinejad.
The Iranian president flatly refused to give such a pledge, the official said. (Additional reporting by Robin Pomeroy and Isabel Reynolds in Rome, Zahra Hosseinian in Tehran, Jerusalem newsroom; Editing by Jon Boyle)