Officials says Iran attack "unavoidable"

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli attack on Iranian nuclearsites looks "unavoidable" given the apparent failure ofsanctions to deny Tehran technology with bomb-making potential,one of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's deputies said on Friday.

"If Iran continues with its programme for developingnuclear weapons, we will attack it. The sanctions areineffective," Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz told themass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

"Attacking Iran, in order to stop its nuclear plans, willbe unavoidable," said the former army chief who has also beendefence minister.

It was the most explicit threat yet against Iran from amember of Olmert's government, which, like the Bushadministration, has preferred to hint at force as a last resortshould U.N. Security Council sanctions be deemed a dead end.

Iran, which denies seeking nuclear weapons, has defiedWestern pressure to abandon its uranium enrichment projects.The leadership in Tehran has also threatened to retaliateagainst Israel -- believed to have the Middle East's onlyatomic arsenal -- and U.S. targets in the Gulf for any attackon Iranian turf.

Mofaz also said in the interview that Iranian PresidentMahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be wiped offthe map, "would disappear before Israel does."

Mofaz's remarks came as he and several other senior membersof Olmert's Kadima Party prepare for a possible run for topoffice should a corruption scandal force the Israeli primeminister to step down.

Iranian-born Mofaz has been a main party rival of theIsraeli prime minister, particularly following the 2006elections when Olmert was forced to hand the defence portfolioto Labour, his main coalition partner, at Mofaz's expense.

Mofaz, who is also designated as a deputy prime minister,has remained privy to Israel's defence planning. He is a memberof Olmert's security cabinet and leads regular strategiccoordination talks with the U.S. State Department.

Israel sent warplanes to destroy Iraq's nuclear reactor in1981.

A similar Israeli sortie over Syria last September razedwhat the U.S. administration said was a nascent nuclear reactorbuilt with North Korean help. Syria denied having any suchfacility.

Independent analysts have questioned, however, whetherIsrael's armed forces can take on Iran alone, as its nuclearsites are numerous, distant and well-fortified.

(Editing by Ori Lewis and Charles Dick)