Israel wary of Iran's atomic progress

By Luke Baker
Wednesday, April 12, 2006; 10:16 AM

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel reacted cautiously on Wednesday to news of Iran's successful enrichment of uranium, saying that while a threat to the Jewish state existed, diplomacy remained the best way of trying to rein in Tehran.

Elder statesman Shimon Peres described Iran's announcement as "worrying and frustrating," but said patience was needed.

"The United States has placed this issue at the top of its agenda. I do not recommend that we should be involved," he told Israel Radio. "I am sure the United States is aware of the expected danger and the matter is in its hands."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who announced on Tuesday that Iran had produced low-grade enriched uranium suitable for power stations, threatened last year to "wipe Israel off the map," provoking international condemnation.

Iran's latest move is a serious setback to efforts by the U.N. Security Council to have Tehran halt its enrichment work. The development could now prompt Western powers, who fear Iran is planning to build nuclear weapons, to consider imposing sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Washington said it would discuss the way forward with other members of the Security Council, but gave no timeframe.

Despite the caution expressed by Peres and other senior officials, some Israelis were alarmed by Iran's announcement and said they wanted to see Israel take unilateral action.

"It's clear what Israel has to do -- Iran poses a real danger to Israel and we have to form a response. Any actions Israel takes from now on will be completely justified," said Ghandi Shapira, 50, a computer technician in Jerusalem.


Given U.S. efforts to curb Iran's nuclear plans through international diplomacy, experts say Israel cannot pursue any plans for a go-it-alone mission like the 1981 bombing raid that destroyed Iraq's atomic reactor at Osiraq.

Israel's chief of staff Dan Halutz told Army Radio that while Iran had taken a "significant step," it had a long way to go before it could produce a nuclear bomb. And even if they did, he said he wasn't convinced Israel would be the first target.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, is expected to visit Tehran this week to seek fuller Iranian cooperation with the Council and the IAEA.

U.S. President George W. Bush's administration has played down reports that it is drawing up plans for possible air strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities, insisting it wants to resolve the confrontation through diplomacy.

Israel's chief of military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, urged an acceleration of efforts to stop Iran's enrichment program.

"The announcements from Tehran are a bargaining chip. They are meant to move the debate to the next point," he told Israel's Haaretz newspaper.

He told the daily Yedioth Ahronoth that Iran could produce a nuclear weapon in around three years, assuming its program continued to advance at the current rate.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Saul and Tali Caspi in Jerusalem)

Full Legal Notice
© 2006 Reuters