Attack us and we'll hit you hard, Bush warns Iranians

Last updated at 23:36 09 January 2008

George Bush began a historic visit to the Middle East yesterday - and delivered his toughest warning yet to Iran.

After last weekend's skirmish in the Gulf, he threatened "serious consequences" if an attack was launched, adding: "All options are on the table".

U.S. warships came within minutes of opening fire on Iranian gunboats which harassed and threatened to blow them up in the Strait of Hormuz.

"We have made it clear publicly there will be serious consequences if they attack our ships, pure and simple," Bush said in Jerusalem. "My advice to them is don't do it."

His national security adviser Stephen Hadley said the incident had been a "very provocative act" that came close to causing an altercation.

Making clear that the U.S. would strike back militarily, Mr Bush said: "The national security adviser was making it abundantly clear that all options are on the table to protect our assets."

Bush's warning came at the start of his first visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, aimed at bolstering peace efforts and rallying Arab opposition to Iran, which is already at odds with Washington over its nuclear programme.

The president said he saw a new opportunity for peace in the Holy Land, a lasting peace that had eluded many of his predecessors and of guaranteeing Israel's security "as a Jewish state".

Before leaving Tel Aviv by helicopter for talks in Jerusalem with President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, he added: "We see a new opportunity for peace here and for freedom across the region."

Bush is trying to nudge Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whom he sees in the Israeli-occupied West Bank today, towards a deal on a separate Palestinian state using a fragile peace process relaunched at Annapolis, Maryland last November and designed to forge a deal before Bush's term ends next January.

"Both leaders are determined to make the hard choices necessary," Bush said after meeting Olmert for nearly three hours. "I wouldn't be standing here if I did not believe that you, Mr Prime Minister, and Mr Abbas ... are serious."

But thousands of Palestinian hardliners in the Gaza Strip staged protests, burning Bush effigies and underscoring the deep political split with West Bank moderates who had welcomed the visit.

Analysts say chances are slim for a deal to create a Palestinian state. Doubts remain about Bush's commitment and ability to act as an even-handed broker between Israel and the Palestinians.