Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavov has warned that a military strike on Iran would be a "very serious mistake" with "unpredictable consequences", after Israel's president Shimon Peres said that an attack was increasingly likely.
© RexRussia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavov
In comments published in the Israeli daily Hayom
, Mr Peres said that "the possibility of a military attack against Iran is now closer to being applied than the application of a diplomatic option".
"We must stay calm and resist pressure so that we can consider every alternative," he added.
The drumbeat of war is expected to grow louder this week when United Nations nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, issues its most detailed report to date on nuclear research in Iran.
It will provide what Western officials and experts regard as irrefutable evidence that Tehran is compiling the capacity and skills to build a bomb. It will be used as leverage for a fifth round of sanctions at the UN, but could also provide Israel, with the tacit support of Washington, to finalise plans for an air strike.
Among its findings are that Tehran was helped by nuclear experts from two countries, believed to be Russia and Pakistan. The Washington Post
reported that key assistance was provided by Vyacheslav Danilenko, a former Soviet nuclear scientist, hired by Iran's Physics Research Centre.
Documents handed over to UN officials showed that he had worked for the Iranians for at least five years, giving lectures and sharing his expertise on developing and testing an explosives package that the Iranians have now succeeded in making part of their blueprint for a nuclear warhead.
Moscow, the closest thing Iran has to a big power ally, is deeply opposed to any military action against the Islamic republic, though Moscow has supported UN Security Council sanctions against Tehran.
"This would be a very serious mistake fraught with unpredictable consequences," said Mr Lavrov, addressing reporters in Moscow. "Military intervention only leads to a multiple rise in casualties and human suffering."
A raid on Iran's nuclear facilities would be likely to provoke Tehran into disruptive retaliatory measures in the Gulf that would sever shipping routes and disrupt the flow of oil and gas to export markets.
Some analysts have said it could backfire and bolster the theocratic regime to the detriment of the pro-democracy movement, and spawn terror attacks on Israeli and US targets around the world.
The issue has been debated in the Israeli cabinet, where Mr Netanyahu has argued that only a muscular response will keep the Iranians in check. He has often spoken of the "existential threat" posed by Iran, whose president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel's annihilation.
Washington is pushing for tighter measures after discovering an Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
Russia has tried to push Tehran to disclose more details about its nuclear work to ease international concerns.
Senior Russian security officials accept that the West has legitimate concerns about the nuclear programme though Moscow still says there is no clear evidence that Iran is trying to make a nuclear bomb.
The Iranians, who insist that their nuclear programme is designed for peaceful purposes, have dismissed the IAEA report as "counterfeit".
Western officials have admitted that the report, due to be circulated to its 35 member states on Tuesday or Wednesday, will not reveal a "smoking gun" of Iranian nuclear weapon-making.
But it will contain new details of particular activities and add flesh to previous reports that make no other conclusion possible, they have said.
The report will reveal that the Iranians are constructing a chamber the size of a London bus whose design is best suited for testing nuclear explosives. They have also finished a blueprint for a nuclear warhead and have enough uranium for four weapons that could be readied in a matter of months.