TEHRAN — A senior Iranian cleric on Sunday dismissed talk of a military strike by Israel as empty propaganda, taunting the Jewish state for screaming "like a cornered cat" rather than roaring like a lion.
Israeli media have speculated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking Cabinet consensus to attack Iranian nuclear sites as Western diplomats say new evidence that Tehran researching ways to build atom bombs will be published this week.
Some analysts dismiss the speculation as part of a strategy of psychological warfare to raise pressure on Iran and bolster a case for harsher international sanctions sought by Washington, rather than endorse or participate in military action.
"The recent threats of the Zionist regime against Iran are more for internal consumption for themselves and their masters who are struggling with the Wall Street movement," said Ayatollah Mahmoud Alavi, referring to anti-capitalism protests that began in New York and have spread around the world.
"There is a difference between the roar of a lion and the scream of a cat that has been trapped in a corner," he said. "And this threat of the Zionist regime and its master America is like the scream of a cornered cat."
Alavi, a member of the Assembly of Experts, a body that appoints and supervises Iran's supreme leader, said Israel would not dare attack Iran. "If they make such a mistake they will receive a crushing response from the Islamic Republic," he told the official IRNA news agency.
Iran says it would respond to any attack by striking U.S. interests in the region and could close the Gulf to oil traffic, causing massive disruption to global crude supplies.
Israeli President Shimon Peres said on Friday that Western intelligence services were "looking at the ticking clock, warning leaders that there is not much time left" to stop Iran getting the bomb.
Iran is already under four rounds of United Nations sanctions due to concerns about its nuclear programme, which it says is entirely peaceful. Washington is pushing for tighter measures after discovering what it says was an Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
A new report due from the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Wednesday is set to present new information fleshing out indications of possible military dimensions to its atomic work, adding impetus to the sanctions push, Western diplomats say.
Many Israelis see a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to their existence. Iranian leaders say they are religiously opposed to nuclear arms and accuse the United States and Israel, which is widely assumed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal dating back decades, of hypocrisy on the issue.
Hawks in Israel and the United States say sanctions have failed and the only way to prevent a nuclear Iran might be a pre-emptive strike -- something many military experts say would be dangerous, difficult and have unpredictable consequences.
"The Zionists and America know putting these threats into practice is very costly, the world will stand against them and that is why they will not do such a foolish thing," Alavi said.
In Paris, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe warned that military action against Iran's nuclear programme could create a "totally destabilizing" situation in the Middle East and France would instead seek to harden sanctions.
"We can still strengthen them (sanctions) to put pressure on Iran and we are going to continue along this path because a military intervention could create a totally destabilizing situation in the region," Juppe told Europe 1 radio.
"We must do everything to avoid the irreparable," he said.
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