Israel once again threatened to attack Iran over its nuclear program this week. Speaking to Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, transport minister Shaul Mofaz threatened, “If Iran continues with its programme for developing nuclear weapons, we will attack it. The sanctions are ineffective. Attacking Iran, in order to stop its nuclear plans, will be unavoidable.”
IAEA Secretary General Mohamed El Baradei criticized Israel’s threat, noting that “With unilateral military actions, countries are undermining international agreements…” El Baradei had earlier criticized Israel’s destruction of what is alleged to have been a nuclear facility under construction in Syria, saying that Israel and the US should have brought their intelligence to the UN to be dealt with through the Security Council, rather than taking unilateral military action, in accordance with their obligations under the UN Charter and international law.
Mr. El Baradei has also noted that there isn’t any evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. Last month, he said, “We haven’t seen indications or any concrete evidence that Iran is building a nuclear weapon and I’ve been saying that consistently for the last five years.”
The most recent report on Iran’s program from the IAEA, released the week after Mr. El Baradei’s above statement, notes that “The Agency has been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran.”
The IAEA’s previous report had noted significant progress in verifying the peaceful nature of Iran’s program and concluded that several areas where there had been concern we no longer outstanding.
Iran responded to the threat by noting, correctly, that “Such a dangerous threat against a sovereign state and a member of the United Nations constitutes a manifest violation of international law and contravenes the most fundamental principles of the Charter of the United Nations”, and requested a response from the UN.
Israel is the only nuclear-armed country in the Middle East. Although it has never officially acknowledged that it has nuclear weapons, it is believed to possess at least several hundred of them. Unlike Iran, Israel has never signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
In addition to bombing the site in Syria, Israel also bombed a nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981, and action which U.S. intelligence believed resulted in Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program going underground and precipitated an increased desire for Iraq to try to obtain a nuclear weapon.
The threat to Iran this week coincided with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s trip to Washington, where he met with President Bush to discuss the matter of Iran. The meeting was expected to be about the possibility of using military force against Iran.
According to the Washington Post, “Olmert is expected to use his White House visit…to push President Bush to take a more aggressive approach toward Iran — and there are some signs that he’ll have a receptive audience.” According to a report in Yedioth Ahronoth, Olmert would try to convince Bush of the need to attack Iran. Olmert had said that there was an “urgent need for more drastic and robust measures” than sanctions. The Israeli paper Haaretz said that “Olmert will try to convince Bush to set aside the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program in favor of data presented by Israel, and determine the administration’s policy on Iran accordingly.” This was confirmed by White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, who said, “Israel has made it clear that they think…that intelligence is wrong, and that Iran is still pursuing a nuclear weapon.”
Bush declared Iran to be “an existential threat to peace.” Asked whether the US would sanction military strikes against Iran, Bush responded that he “would never take any options off the table”.
Olmert came away from the meeting saying that he had “fewer questions” about how to deal with Iran, and that “every day we are making real strides towards dealing with this problem more effectively.” He said, “The international community has a duty and responsibility to clarify to Iran, through drastic measure, that the repercussions of their continued pursuit of nuclear weapons will be devastating. Israel will not tolerate the possibility of a nuclear Iran, and neither should any other country in the free world.”