As Israeli leaders continued to warn against the dangers posed should Iran develop nuclear weapons, Tehran reportedly conspired with Syria in August to have its Hezbollah proxies replace Yasir Arafat’s troops as the most important Palestinian force in Lebanon.
The effort failed, but the Israeli daily Maariv quotes Israeli intelligence sources as saying that Iran is expected to continue trying to gain a strong foothold along the Mediterranean coast in Lebanon and to allow al Qaeda to also operate from there. Such a base with Syrian troop protection would allow Iran to threaten Israel, Turkey and Europe.
Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, confirmed that Syria and Hezbollah have been attempting to wrest control from Arafat’s Fatah movement in Lebanon for some time now. He noted that this power struggle comes at the same time that Arafat and Hezbollah are working together to fight Israel in the West Bank and Gaza.
“That’s the paradox of the Middle East,” Steinberg said. “They’re fighting each other and working together at the same time.”
It is these developments that are said to be a reason the U.S. — and later the United Nations — began exerting pressure on Syria to withdraw its 18,000 troops from Lebanon in the hope that Lebanon would then reassert its sovereignty and crush Hezbollah. As of mid-week, 3,000 Syrian troops had reportedly been redeployed in the hope of satisfying the demand.
The U.S. has also stepped up its pressure on Syria not to allow terrorists bent on causing havoc in Iraq to enter Iraq through Syria’s borders. Israel added to the pressure last Sunday when it killed a senior Hamas official, Izadin al-Sheik Khalil, with a car bomb in Damascus, the first time Israel struck a Hamas leader in Syria.
Syria had earlier claimed that all Hamas operatives had been expelled from its capital. Khalil reportedly had ties to Iran.
Mordechai Kedar, a senior research associate at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, said he has no doubt that Iran, despite its denials, is also seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
“They took their example from North Korea,” he explained, “a state that has possible nuclear weapons and that now nobody messes with. Iran wants to get to that point.”
Asked if the Iranian rulers would use their nuclear weapons, Kedar replied: “I would not like to risk it because if they decide to use it, it would be with the advice of Allah. And this is the real danger of this regime, one that thinks it rules by the word of Allah and will never be bound to rules of international political life.”
Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, warned here last week that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.
“If Iran becomes nuclear, a dark curtain would cover the [Persian] Gulf, the Middle East, Israel and the West,” he said at a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
President George W. Bush told an interviewer this week that the U.S. would not allow Iran to develop a nuclear bomb.
“We’ve made it clear,” he said. “Our position is that they won’t have a nuclear weapon.”
Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel is “taking measures to defend itself” against an Iranian nuclear threat, a statement some interpreted as meaning that Israel was preparing to militarily destroy Iran’s nuclear production facilities the way it blew up Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981. But analysts point out that a similar attack on Iran is impossible because Iran’s nuclear program is spread all over the country, with much of it underground.
The need to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat quickly was underscored in the last few days by several developments:On Monday, Israel’s national security adviser, Giora Eiland, was quoted by Maariv as saying Iran would reach the “point of no return” in its nuclear weapons program in November rather than next year as previously believed.
Iranian Vice President Reza Aghazadeh revealed last week that Iran has started converting raw uranium into the gas needed for enrichment, a key step in the making of a nuclear bomb.
The International Atomic Energy Agency had earlier demanded that Iran freeze all uranium enrichment, including conversion, and threatened to bring the matter to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions if Iran ignored it.
On Tuesday, John Bolton, U.S. undersecretary for arms control and international security, told a meeting in Washington that the U.S. wants the IAEA to take the matter to the Security Council next month [November] “to put pressure on Iran to give up pursuit of nuclear weapons.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi told CNN Tuesday that this is not a Security Council matter “because there hasn’t been a violation,” contrary to U.S. claims that Iran is concealing its nuclear weapons development program.
“We are against [a] nuclear bomb,” Kharazi insisted. “And it’s not part of our defense strategy.”
Shteinitz said he favors bringing the matter to the Security Council but only if it is made “extremely clear to Iran’s leadership that at the end of the day we are not going to allow” them to develop a nuclear bomb.
“The effectiveness of warnings and sanctions is not due to the strength of each sanction,” Shteinitz stressed, “but due to Iran’s realization that it is going to have to pay the price” if its leaders do not heed the Security Council’s decision.