HERZLIYA, Israel, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz warned the Iranian people Saturday that they faced "destruction" unless they managed to restrain their new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"Look at the fate of others who sought the destruction of the Jewish people. They only brought havoc and destruction to the own people," Mofaz said.
"I know that a large part of the people of Iran do not support his policies but his despicable acts could bring destruction to all of you. You understand what must be done to prevent this," Mofaz added, directly addressing the Iranian people.
It was the toughest statement of Israel's determination to block Iran's nuclear ambitions since the stroke that felled Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon two weeks ago, and it came just two days before the next scheduled international inspection of Iran's nuclear research facilities.
Mofaz's speech to an international conference of security experts in Herzliya, an exclusive resort just north of Tel Aviv, contained a clear warning that Israel if the United Nations and the international community failed to act, Israel would do so.
"Israel has to be able to defend itself," Mofaz said. "This we can do, and we are working on it now."
The Mofaz speech was intended not only for Iran and an international audience but also for Israeli voters, who go to the polls in March in a general election that seems likely to elect a new government led by the new Kadima party, founded by Sharon, to which Mofaz has rallied along with the acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. With the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran looming heavily over the Israeli elections, Mofaz's speech was aimed to reassure the voters that Israel's security would be safe in Kadima's hands.
Iran's nuclear development program is "an existential risk to the entire world, not just Israel," Mofaz went on, and said that Ahmadinejad led "an extremist regime that denies the existence of Israel and calls for its obliteration."
"I believe everyone present here understands the extent to which the combination of an extremist regime with long-range ballistic capability, ongoing effort to obtain nuclear weapons and support in terror constitutes a danger not only to Israel, but to the entire world," Mofaz added.
Mofaz, formerly chief of staff of Israeli defense forces, told the annual Herzliya Conference on the Israel's national security that in addition to Tehran's nuclear ambitions, Iran was directly sponsoring the Hizbollah terrorist organization to the tune of $100 million a year.
"Money is the fuel for terror," Mofaz said. "The financial assistance Iran transfers to Hizbollah totals some 100 million dollars each year. Some of these funds are funneled from Hizbollah to Palestinian terror groups. In addition, Iran is the main sponsor of the Islamic Jihad, which carried out most suicide attacks in Israel last year, including the attack in Tel Aviv's central bus station."
He added that Islamic Jihad cells in the West Bank received about 10 million dollars from Hizbullah in 2005, compared to just 5 million dollars in 2004.
In his combative speech, Mofaz described last week's Damascus meeting between Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar Assad as "the summit of terror," and called the two leaders "representatives of the past."
But Mofaz made it clear that while Israel could act alone of it had to, the Jewish state was also wary of being isolated diplomatically, and would work hard to build regional alliances and cooperate with the international community.
"In the coming years we need to boost the strategic coordination with the U.S. and Europe, as well as with the peaceful countries Egypt and Jordan. Jihad draws near to us, and so we must combine efforts with the countries of the West," the defense minister said.
"Syria is under international pressure, while we have peace agreements with Arab states and the reality does not allow for the formation of an Arab coalition against Israel. The strength of the peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt contributes to stability in the region, which is why they must continue to be nurtured," Mofaz concluded.