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Barak hints at Israels readiness to strike Iran
The Israeli Eitam plane is seen during an in-house exhibit at Israel Aerospace Industries near Tel Aviv Thursday, July 10, 2008. Israel says the Eitam airplane, which is equipped with sophisticated intelligence-gathering systems can spy on Iran. - photo by Associated Press
    JERUSALEM — Israel’s defense minister hinted Thursday that Israel was ready to attack Iran’s nuclear program, saying it didn’t balk before ‘‘when its vital security interests’’ were at stake.
    Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s allusion to Israel’s 1981 airstrike on an unfinished Iraqi nuclear reactor came at a time of intensified tensions between Israel and its archenemy, Iran.
    Tehran launched war games and tests of a long-range missile this week after saying Tel Aviv would be ‘‘set on fire’’ if Israel were to attack Iran.
    ‘‘Israel is the strongest country in the region and has proved in the past that it doesn’t hesitate to act when its vital security interests are at stake,’’ Barak told a meeting of his Labor Party.
    But he quickly tempered his remarks, noting that ‘‘the reactions of enemies ... need to be taken into consideration as well.’’
    Earlier in the day, Israel put its latest spy plane on display, in what defense officials said was a show of strength in response to Iran’s war games and missile tests.
    Israel is convinced Iran is building nuclear weapons, despite Tehran’s insistence that it is developing energy. Israel’s fears about Iran have only been heightened by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s repeated calls for the Jewish state’s destruction.
    Iran has long warned it would strike back for any attack against it. But it has sharpened its rhetoric since Israel’s military sent warplanes over the eastern Mediterranean in June for a large military exercise that U.S. officials described as a possible rehearsal for a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
    This week’s missile tests made a dramatic show of Tehran’s readiness to strike back in the event of a U.S. or Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities.
    Among the missiles Iran said it tested was a new version of the Shahab-3, which has a range of 1,250 miles and is armed with a 1-ton conventional warhead. The missile puts Israel, Turkey, Pakistan and the Arabian peninsula within striking distance.
    Israeli defense officials have said there were no major surprises in the latest Iranian missile tests. The officials said they appeared to be more of an exercise in psychological warfare than a breakthrough in military technology.
    In another act of muscle-flexing, Israel displayed its new spy plane Thursday at the headquarters of state-run Israel Aerospace Industries.
    Israel unveiled the plane last year and will exhibit it at the Farnborough air show in England next week. Israeli defense officials said the aircraft went on display at IAI headquarters in response to the Iranian war games.
    They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss military tactics.
    IAI spokesman Assaf Dargan said the plane ‘‘has the most sophisticated early warning and intelligence devices to date and is capable of reaching all destinations required by the air force.’’ He declined to elaborate, citing security considerations.

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