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ElBaradei warns against strike on Iran

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  • "Any military strike ... is the worst thing that can happen now," ElBaradei says
  • U.S. military official confirms major Israeli aerial exercise over E. Mediterranean
  • Size and scope of exercise ensured that U.S. and other nations saw it, official says
  • Iran doesn't believe in existence of Jewish state
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(CNN) -- A military strike on Iran would turn the Middle East "into a ball of fire," said Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency.

Mohamed ElBaradei, U.N. nuclear watchdog chief, warned of the dangers of a strike on Iran.

Mohamed ElBaradei, U.N. nuclear watchdog chief, warned of the dangers of a strike on Iran.

ElBaradei made the remarks in an interview aired on Saturday by Al Arabiya TV. The interview comes a day after reports emerged that Israel conducted a large-scale military exercise that the United States believes is in part a message to Iran that Israel has the capability to attack its nuclear program.

"In my opinion, any military strike -- as I mentioned -- is the worst thing that can happen now," said ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"It will make the Middle East turn into a ball of fire. It is a lot worse than having sanctions. A military strike will lead Iran, even if it plans today to manufacture a nuclear weapon, to establish a crash course to speed the process to have the weapon with the blessing of all Iranians, even those living in the West."

A U.S. military official confirmed to CNN on Friday that Israel conducted a major aerial military exercise over the eastern Mediterranean Sea on June 2. The exercise was first reported in the New York Times.

The United States believes the maneuvers were in part an Israeli effort to send a public message that it has the capability to attack Iran's nuclear program, the official said.

The exercise involved dozens of Israeli warplanes, including F-15s, F-16s and aerial refueling tanker aircraft, the official said, adding that the size and scope of the exercise ensured it was seen by both the United States and other nations in the region.

The planes flew several hundred miles into the eastern Mediterranean.

The U.S. military calculates the distance was roughly the same Israel would have to fly into Iranian airspace if it were attacking the Natanz enrichment plant, the official acknowledged.

The Israeli military said its air force regularly trains for various missions in order to confront and meet the challenges posed by the threats facing Israel.

Israel attacked and destroyed the Osirak nuclear facility in Iraq in 1981 and attacked a target in Syria that the United States believes was a nuclear reactor.

Israel and Iran long have been arch-enemies. Israel has long felt threatened by Iran's hard-line Islamic regime.

The Islamic Republic doesn't believe in the existence of the Jewish state, and Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has called for Israel to be wiped off the map. The Iranian regime for years has criticized Israel's policies in the Palestinian territories.

Israel, like the United States and other nations in the West, believes Iran has aspirations to create a nuclear arsenal. Iran says it wants to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes, namely energy for power lines, and denies it wants to produce nuclear weapons.

Israel and the United States have said they want to deal with Iran's nuclear program diplomatically, but the countries haven't ruled out military options. Video Watch U.S. Secretary Condoleezza Rice discuss skepticism toward Iran »

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Recently, Israel Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz said the Jewish state "will attack" Iran if it doesn't halt its efforts to develop nuclear weaponry. Iran's United Nations delegation has sent a letter to the U.N. secretary-general and Security Council protesting the threat.

ElBaradei said in the interview that if a military strike would occur, "then I do not think there will be any need for my work at all. I will have no way to continue my job if a military force is mobilized (against Iran)."

All About IsraelNatanzIranMohamed ElBaradei

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