Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi cautioned that attacking Iran is an option of last resort that would have dire consequences for the region, but noted that "it is hard to contest the fact that Israel feels deeply threatened." Terzi spoke Friday to The Associated Press on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
"The card of military intervention by Israel to hit Iranian nuclear sites ... is certainly a card that is still on the table," Terzi said. "I consider it an option of extreme last resort that would have such a grave backlash that everything must be done so that this does not happen."
European nations are looking to agree to a new round of sanctions against Iran at a meeting of the European Union Foreign Affairs Council next month, and are expected to focus on Iran's financial and energy sectors.
The U.S. and EU have targeted Iran with repeated rounds of measures, including an international embargo on oil exports, its main source of revenue. Russia, which holds veto power in the Security Council, has made clear it would not support further U.N. sanctions.
Iran insists its program is solely for peaceful energy and scientific research purposes. The U.S. and many Western and some Arab states see that as a cover for developing nuclear arms. But there is disagreement on how to stop Iran, with President Barack Obama insisting there is more time for diplomacy and hard-hitting sanctions, while Israel presses for a military response.
"The military card is an extreme option in a game that is playing itself out, and that must end with an agreement and Iran's enactment of U.N. resolutions," Terzi said.
In his address to the General Assembly on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Iran will have enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon by next summer.
He used props to make his point, drawing a red line across an illustration of a cartoon-like bomb that measured Iran's nuclear progress, marking what he said was a threshold Iran was approaching and which Israel could not tolerate—90 percent of the way to the uranium enrichment needed to make an atomic bomb.
"Netanyahu's speech was presented very efficiently," Terzi said, "He clarified, graphically ... where the red line is."
Western diplomats claim Iran's oil exports have dropped by about 40 percent, or about 1 million barrels per day, since EU and U.S. sanctions were imposed. However, speaking in New York this week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insisted the impact on his country's economy was minimal.