Don’t discount Israel pre-emptive strike, Hillary Clinton warns Iran

The Times | June 8, 2009
By Tim Reid in Washington

Hillary Clinton refused yesterday to rule out a pre-emptive Israeli military strike on Iran. It was the first time that a senior member of the Obama Administration had openly discussed such a possibility.

The US Secretary Of State, speaking a few days before elections in Iran that will determine the fate of President Ahmadinejad, also warned that the country would face retaliation if it launched a nuclear attack on Israel.

As President Obama extends “an open hand”, seeking direct talks with Tehran in his attempt to halt its nuclear programme, Mrs Clinton appeared ready to unnerve the Iranian leadership with talk of a pre-emptive strike “the way that we did attack Iraq”. She said that she was trying to put herself in the shoes of the Iranian leadership, but added that Tehran “might have some other enemies that would do that [deliver a pre-emptive strike] to them”. It was a clear reference to Israel, where Binyamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, has talked about the possibility of military action to halt Iran’s nuclear programme — something he views as a threat to the Jewish state.

Mrs Clinton, interviewed on the ABC programme This Week a year after she conceded to Mr Obama in the Democratic primary race, said that it was US policy that a nuclear attack by Iran on Israel would be seen as an attack on the US.

“I don’t think there is any doubt in anyone’s mind that were Israel to suffer a nuclear attack by Iran, there would be retaliation,” she said, though she did not spell out who would retaliate. She was responding to a question about her statement as a presidential candidate last year, when she said Iran would “incur massive retaliation from the United States” if it attacked Israel.

Yesterday she said: “Part of what we have to make clear to the Iranians is that their pursuit of nuclear weapons will actually trigger greater insecurity.” She noted that Israel and Arab states were “deeply concerned about Iran having nuclear weapons”.

She added: “So, does Iran want to face a battery of nuclear countries?”