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    Entries in violence in teheran (1)


    Netanyahu Says Iranian Leaders Losing Support

    JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Israel had benefited from what he called the Iranian government's loss of legitimacy, both among other states and with its own people.

    Speaking to a closed session of the parliamentary defence committee, as quoted by an official, Netanyahu repeated his view that Israel must prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons but gave no indication of if or when Israel might use military force -- an option his government has refused to rule out.

    However, on a day of clashes between protesters and police in Tehran, and a week after Iran defied international pressure and announced an expansion of a nuclear programme it says is for purely civil use, Netanyahu told Israeli lawmakers that the Iranian government was losing support at home and abroad.

    "During the past year, Iran has lost a lot of legitimacy in the international community. This is an important asset to Israel," Netanyahu was quoted as saying by a parliamentary official. "Much of the Iranian population has animosity towards the regime."

    The United States and its allies suspect Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy programme. Tehran denies this.

    Many analysts take seriously the possibility that Israel, assumed to be the only nuclear military power in the Middle East, might at some stage consider launching a unilateral strike to prevent Iran acquiring a bomb, a prospect the Jewish state sees as an existential threat.


    Netanyahu said on Monday it was in Israel's "supreme interest to prevent Iran from arming with nuclear weapons."

    But his government also appears keen not to break step with key ally the United States and other world powers, which are seeking to persuade Tehran to curb the military potential of its nuclear programme by means of diplomacy and economic sanctions.

    Should such diplomatic pressure weaken Iranian leaders, analysts say, that could reduce the chance of attacks on Iran.

    Political sources have indicated Israel's armed forces have prepared plans for a possible strike on Iran, but analysts believe Netanyahu is content for now to follow the U.S. policy.

    Earlier on Monday, an Israeli military intelligence officer also briefed the parliamentary defence committee on Iran.

    Brigadier General Yossi Baidatz was quoted by a parliamentary official as saying that Iran had the nuclear know-how and the material, as well as the long-range missile technology, to build nuclear missiles to threaten Israel.

    Echoing opinions expressed by Western experts, Baidatz said: "They have passed the technological stage. What now separates them from a (nuclear) bomb is taking the decision to build one."

    On Monday, Netanyahu also reiterated Israel was prepared to hold peace talks with Syria, an ally of Iran on Israel's border, on condition Damascus did not insist the Jewish state concede beforehand that it would withdraw from all the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Israel captured in a 1967 war.

    Syria has signalled it would prefer to hold indirect talks, including the possible resumption of talks mediated by Turkey a year ago. Netanyahu said he preferred a French offer to mediate to that from Turkey, citing Istanbul's criticism of Israel's treatment of Palestinians, notably in last winter's war in Gaza.