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Top Israeli official talks Iran with senior rabbi

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IAN DEITCH | August 21, 2012 01:10 PM EST | AP

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JERUSAEM — The Israeli prime minister's national security adviser met with an influential rabbi to persuade him to support a military strike on Iran's nuclear sites, a party official said Tuesday.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the Shas Party's 92-year-old spiritual leader, met with national security adviser Yaakov Amidror last week, the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

He said he did not know the rabbi's response because the talks were private.

The meeting comes at a time of public debate about the possibility of an Israeli attack against Iran to stop its nuclear program. Israel and the West suspect Iran is aiming to build nuclear weapons. Iran insists the program is for peaceful purposes.

Israeli leaders have been indicating impatience over Western diplomatic and economic moves to deter Iran, though some analysts believe the implied Israeli saber-rattling is a bluff to increase pressure on Tehran. Iranian leaders have rejected Israel's hints, threatening punishing retaliation.

Israeli leaders have consulted with Yosef about weighty military decisions and other issues in the past, seeking his support and blessings.

Yosef, a former Israeli chief rabbi for Jews of Middle East origins, is revered by millions around the world as a scholar and spiritual leader. His Shas Party is part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government and would have a say in a decision over attacking Iran.

Israel views Iran as an existential threat because of its nuclear and missile programs, support for violent anti-Israeli groups in Lebanon and Gaza as well as repeated references by Iranian leaders to Israel's destruction.

Israel submitted a letter to the U.N on Monday over remarks by Iran's leaders in the past few days, calling for Israel's destruction.

The letter pointed to statements by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Khamenei has called Israel a "cancerous tumor," and in his latest pronouncement on Wednesday, he said Israel will "disappear from the scene of geography."

Ahmadinejad told worshippers on Friday that Israel's existence is an "insult to all humanity."

Ahmadinejad has also described the Holocaust, when 6 million Jews were killed by German Nazis and their collaborators during World War II, as a "myth."

An Israeli diplomat at the U.N., Israel Nitzan, said the recent "delusional statements of Iran's leaders are not those of crazy people, but rational fanatics with irrational hatreds."

"One can only imagine what such an extremist regime would do if it got its hands on the world's most dangerous weapons," Nitzan said.