By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Associated Press
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's parliament speaker on Saturday compared Israel to a barking dog that won't dare attack the Islamic republic over its controversial nuclear program.
"They make a lot of fuss about it but don't dare to attack Iran," Ali Larijani said of Israel. His comments were posted on the parliament's website. "They are like dogs that keep barking but are not for attacks."
"Israel won't make the mistake of attacking Iran because it's not prepared to play with its own destiny," said Larijani.
Larijani is Iran's former top nuclear negotiator and intensely loyal to the country's cleric-led regime. His barbed comments are sure to ratchet up tension over Iran's nuclear program.
Israel and the U.S. have threatened that all options remain open, including military action, if Iran continues with uranium enrichment, a program that can be used to produce nuclear fuel or fissile material for an atomic bomb.
Israeli officials have increased their verbal threats against Iran in recent months, saying a window of opportunity is closing to militarily halt or delay Iran's nuclear program because Tehran is moving more of its nuclear installations underground.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this month that a strike on Iran "is not a matter of days or weeks, but it's also not a matter of years."
Israel considers Iran an existential threat because of its nuclear and missile programs and repeated references by Iranian leaders to Israel's destruction.
President Barack Obama warned Iran this week that the window for dealing with its nuclear program through diplomatic channels is "shrinking."
Recent polls in Israel have suggested that a majority of Israelis oppose an Israeli strike on Iran if carried out without U.S. cooperation.
Iran has scattered its nuclear facilities across the vast country and moved key portions underground to protect them from possible attacks.
Tehran has already warned that it would respond to an attack against it by barraging Israel with missiles and taking control of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, a key passageway where a sixth of the world oil passes through.
A new version of Iran's Shahab-3 missile has a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) and is armed with a 1-ton conventional warhead. That would put Israel, Turkey, the Arabian Peninsula, Afghanistan and Pakistan within striking distance.
Iran has warned that oil prices will dramatically increase should it be attacked and believes that its threat of choking off the Hormuz strait will be one of the factors deterring Israel and the U.S. from taking military action.
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