Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Thursday, October 19, 2006
The issue of Iran topped the agenda when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Russian President Vladimir Putin met this week. Olmert's three-day visit to Moscow ended on Thursday.
Israel is eager to convince Russia, which is helping Iran complete its nuclear reactor in Bushehr, to support international sanctions against Tehran. Russia, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has been dragging its feet on the issue.
Israel, the U.S. and Europe believe that Iran is secretly developing a nuclear bomb under cover of its civilian nuclear program. Tehran denies it and Russia backs Iran's right to have nuclear power for peaceful purposes.
Before his trip, Olmert said that Iran represents an "existential threat" to Israel and the world. Israel "cannot countenance" a country like Iran possessing non-conventional capabilities, he said following his meeting with Putin.
"I made it clear that the State of Israel has no margin of error, has no privilege to err. There is no way to prevent nuclear arms, if Iran is not afraid," he said.
The Iranians "need to fear" the consequences if they continue in their nuclear pursuits, Olmert said, adding that he did not discuss specifics of what Israel would or would not do.
Olmert's Cabinet Secretary Israel Maimon said on Thursday that Putin was just as worried as Israel about the prospects of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, the radio reported. But Olmert admitted that there are "still differences in approach between Israel and Russia."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by the RIA news agency on Wednesday as saying that "reports from Iran do not indicate a real threat to peace and security."
For more than a year, the U.S. has been trying to get the issue of Iran's nuclear development referred to the U.N. Security Council. That finally happened after Iran ignored an August 31 deadline to halt its uranium enrichment program - a process that can be used to make nuclear fuel or an element necessary for an atomic bomb.
Since then, there has been no agreement on sanctions.
But Iranian affairs expert Menashe Amir said it's already too late for sanctions.
"The only solution is to topple the regime," said Amir, an Iranian who has lived in Israel for decades. There needs to be a breakthrough in the European and American behavior, he said, where they realize the great danger of Iran.
The problem with sanctions, said Amir, is that first of all there aren't any. After the U.N. decides on sanctions, they will be too "weak and feeble" to influence the regime. Even if there is an escalation in the sanctions, it will take years, he said. "It doesn't help. It will not really endanger the regime."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has stated many times recently that Iran would not halt its uranium enrichment program. And in a speech last week, Ahmadinejad said he did not believe that the West would do anything to confront Iran.
"The enemies are completely paralyzed, and cannot in any way confront the Iranian people. If our people maintain unity and solidarity, they [the enemies] must expect a great [Iranian] victory, because we have [only] one step remaining before we attain the summit of nuclear technology," he was quoted as saying by the Iranian Fars News Agency.
But Amir, who hosts a Farsi language radio program, which is broadcast into Iran, said the people are waiting for change. Amir has contact with Iranians through the weekly phone-in program broadcast by Israel's government-run Kol Israel (the Voice of Israel) as part of its Farsi (Persian) language broadcast.
Amir said he attended a special reception in the U.S. last week with President Bush. "I told him I have a message [for him]. The message is: 'The Iranian people are waiting for you to come and rescue them.'"
Israel's Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter said on Thursday that Israel was not responsible for leading the international campaign against Iran's nuclear pursuits. It is up to the U.S., Europe and Russia, he said.
Difference between Iran, North Korea
Even though North Korea recently conducted a nuclear test, Amir said a bomb in Ahmadinejad's hands is much more dangerous.
"Iran is a very sensitive place," said Amir.
In North Korea, the leaders want an atomic bomb so that they can extort money from the West. But the reason Iran wants a nuclear bomb is for the purpose of exporting their revolution and converting all human beings into Shiites. "There is a big difference between Iran and North Korea," he said.
"When you have a lunatic president that claims a direction connection with God and is waiting for the Shiite messiah [who is] dangerous, adventurous, and an [un]stable person, having a [nuclear] bomb is the biggest danger," Amir said.
Iran News reported this week that Ahmadinejad said he was assured of victory.
"I have a connection with God, since God said that the infidels will have no way to harm the believers. Well, [but] only if we are believers, because God said: You [will be] the victors...If we are [really] believers, God will show us victory, and this [a] miracle," Ahmadinejad said. (A translation was provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute.)
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