- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

TEHRAN, IRAN (AP) - Iran warned Israel on Tuesday against attacking the Islamic state’s nuclear facilities, a day after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad raised tensions between the two foes by calling Israel the “most cruel and repressive racist regime” at a U.N. conference in Geneva.

Israel has identified Iran as its biggest threat, citing the country’s nuclear program and its development of long-range ballistic missiles.

But parliament speaker Ali Larijani said if Israel attacked, “Iran will respond in a way that they will not be able to sleep easy anymore.”

He made the remark at a meeting in Tehran of top prosecutors from Islamic countries, who are trying to find ways to arrange for the arrest and prosecution of Israeli leaders on war crimes charges over the Gaza assault earlier this year.

In response, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israelis sleep well “and in our dreams Iran is a friendly country engaged in a constructive relationship with the international community and is not the lunatic and dangerous regime it is now.”

The comments came a day after Ahmadinejad’s speech to a U.N. racism conference prompted European diplomats to walk out and drew sharp criticism from Israel.

Ahmadinejad has previously suggested the Holocaust never happened and called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” The United Nations said Tuesday that Ahmadinejad had dropped a reference to Holocaust denial from his speech at the conference.

Ahmadinejad got a hero’s welcome when he returned Tuesday to Tehran airport, where about 200 people greeted him with bouquets of flowers. A few hard-line lawmakers said Ahmadinejad demonstrated Iranian dignity and greatness during the conference. State TV said he defended Palestinian rights against a racist regime.

The official IRNA news agency quoted lawmaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar as saying the speech in Geneva was a “great achievement for the (Iran’s ruling) system.” Morteza Agha Tehrani, another conservative lawmaker, said “Ahmadinejad taught Arab and Islamic nations how to stand up and get their rights.”

Israel believes Iran is developing nuclear weapons that could pose a threat to its existence. Oil-rich Iran denies that and says its nuclear work is for peaceful purposes such as generating electricity.

Israel has threatened military action, but last week President Shimon Peres dismissed the idea that the country was planning an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Iran has repeatedly said it would strike back after any attack.

Earlier this month, Israel’s Defense Ministry said the country had successfully tested an anti-missile system designed to protect the country against Iranian attack.

Obama administration overtures to open a dialogue with Iran after decades of diplomatic stalemate are also making Israel nervous.

___

Associated Press Writer Aron Heller contributed to this report from Jerusalem.

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