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Israel, Iran in war of words

Shimon Peres, left, meets with Kofi Annan at the U.N. in New York. After the meeting, Peres claimed Iran is sending its elite Revolutionary Guards to Lebanon to prepare for an attack on Israel. (Shahar Azran)

Shimon Peres, left, meets with Kofi Annan at the U.N. in New York. After the meeting, Peres claimed Iran is sending its elite Revolutionary Guards to Lebanon to prepare for an attack on Israel. (Shahar Azran)

JERUSALEM, Feb. 5 (JTA) — A war of words has erupted between Israel and Iran. On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres claimed Iran is sending its elite Revolutionary Guards to Lebanon to prepare for an attack on Israel. Iran has "converted Lebanon into a ball of explosives, endangering the future of Lebanon," Peres said in New York after meeting with U.N. Secretary- General Kofi Annan. Peres also said Iran is arming Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon with thousands of missiles that can strike Israeli cities. Peres´ comments came as Iran´s defense minister, Admiral Ali Shamkhani, responded to a reporter´s hypothetical question by saying that "If Israel carries out any military action against Iran, it will face a response that will be unimaginable to any Israeli politician." Shamkhani said he was not referring to a nuclear response, but added that "time will tell" what the response would be. Israeli officials have been playing up the threat from Iran after President Bush referred to Tehran in his State of the Union speech last month as being part of an "axis of evil," along with North Korea and Iraq. On Tuesday, Israel´s transportation minister, Ephraim Sneh, denied suggestions by Tehran that Israel might attack Iran´s nuclear power plant. Cabinet minister Dan Meridor said the same day that Israel is trying to convince Russia and Western countries to cut links with Iran as long as it seeks to develop weapons of mass destruction. Also on Tuesday, the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, described Iranian efforts to obtain a nuclear capability as a long-term, existential threat. Briefing the Knesset´s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Mofaz also said that Israel had developed the capability during the past year to protect itself from an Iranian missile attack. During separate visits to Washington this week, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer are expected to warn officials about the threat posed by Iran. Israeli leaders have been reviewing policy toward Iran before the Washington talks. Sharon, Peres and Ben-Eliezer met recently with heads of the security establishment to determine the content of their warnings about the Islamic Republic. Israel is not alone in warning about Iranian adventurism: Jordan is claiming that Iran was behind a series of attempted attacks on Israel from Jordanian territory. The London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported Tuesday that Jordanian authorities foiled 17 attempted mortar and rocket attacks on Israel. According to the paper, the attempted attacks were carried out by Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants trained in Iran — and in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon.

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