HERZLIYA, Israel (AFP) — Former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said on Monday that Israel may have to take military action to prevent its archfoe Iran from acquiring an atomic bomb.
Bolton also said that further UN sanctions against the Islamic republic will be ineffective in stopping Iran's controversial nuclear programme which Israel and the US believe is aimed at developing a bomb -- a claim denied by Tehran.
"One can say with some assurance that in the next year the use of force by the United States is highly unlikely," Bolton told AFP on the sidelines of the Herzliya conference on the balance of Israel's national security.
"That increases the pressure on Israel in that period of time... if it feels Iran is on the verge of acquiring that capability, it brings the decision point home to use force," he said.
The hawkish former diplomat said that after a US intelligence report published late last year that claimed Iran had suspended a nuclear weapons programme in 2003, the US was unlikely to take military action against it.
"The pressure is on Israel now after the National Intelligence Estimate because, I think, the likelihood of American use of force has been dramatically reduced," he said.
Widely considered the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear power, Israel considers Iran its number one enemy following repeated statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the Jewish state to be wiped off the map.
Bolton said that military action against Iran should be taken before Tehran acquires a bomb.
"The calculus in the region changes dramatically once Iran has nuclear capability, meaning the preemptive use of force or the overthrow of the Iranian regime has to come before they get the weapon," Bolton said.
"If you are worried about an Iran with nuclear weapons and an extreme theological regime in power, the time to take the plan of action is before Iran acquires the weapons.
"Once it acquires the weapons there is a risk of retaliation with nuclear capability and that's why Israel is in danger -- it is a very small country and two or three nuclear weapons (and) there is no more country. The pressure to act is intensive and the window of time available is narrow."
Bolton also said that despite Iranian threats to hit hard if it is attacked, "their response will be a lot more measured than people think."
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last week said that all options were on the table to prevent an Iranian bomb. The Israeli military last week also successfully test-fired a ballistic missile said to be able to carry a non-conventional warhead.
Bolton said that a new round of United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran was "unlikely" and that Tehran would not be deterred by further diplomatic sanctions.
"Maybe there will be another resolution but it will be even more toothless than the previous two sanction resolutions... International pressure through diplomacy of sanction has no chance of shifting Iran's policies over the next year."
A senior Israeli security official said in reaction that "one should listen very closely to what Bolton has to say."
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