Israelis urge U.S. to stop Iran’s nuke goals

The United States and its allies must act to stop Iran’s nuclear programs — by force if necessary — because conventional diplomacy will not work, three senior Israeli lawmakers from across the political spectrum warned yesterday.

As a last resort, they said, Israel itself would act unilaterally to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms.

Iran will not be deterred “by anything short of a threat of force,” said Arieh Eldad, a member of Israel’s right-wing National Union Party, part of a delegation of Knesset members visiting Washington this week.

“They won’t be stopped unless they are convinced their programs will be destroyed if they continue,” he said.

Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said the best hope was for the United States and other major powers to make it clear to Iranian leaders now there was “no chance they will ever see the fruits of a nuclear program.”

“Threats of sanctions and isolation alone will not do it,” said Mr. Steinitz.

Yosef Lapid, head of the centrist opposition Shinui Party in the Knesset, added that Israel “will not live under the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb.”

“We feel we are obliged to warn our friends that Israel should not be pushed into a situation where we see no other solution but to act unilaterally” against Iran, he said.

Mr. Steinitz, a member of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s ruling Likud Party, stopped just short of a direct threat to bomb suspect Iranian nuclear sites.

Mr. Steinitz said Israeli officials estimate that Tehran is only two to three years away from developing a nuclear bomb and that time was running out for the world to act.

“We see an Iranian bomb as a devastating, existential threat to Israel, to the entire Middle East, to all Western interests in the region,” he said.

“Despite all the different circumstances, we see similarities to what happened in the 1930s, when people underestimated the real problem or focused on other dangers. For us, either the world will tackle Iran in advance or all of us will face the consequences.”

The Bush administration has led the diplomatic campaign to pressure Iran, claiming the Islamic regime for two decades has secretly pursued a nuclear arsenal. The board of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency in Vienna over the weekend concluded Iran had violated international pledges on its nuclear programs and said the matter could be referred to the U.N. Security Council.

Iranian officials harshly condemned the resolution and insist the country has the right to pursue a peaceful nuclear program to meet its energy needs.

Israel has acted unilaterally before to halt a nuclear program by a hostile neighbor, bombing Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981. Widely condemned at the time, the surprise raid is now credited with dealing a major setback to Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions.

Mr. Eldad said Israelis across the political spectrum see Iran as the country’s most serious threat and one that cannot be ignored.

But he added that unilateral action by Israel was the “worst possible scenario,” likely to inflame opinion throughout the Muslim world.

“If we have to do it, we’ll do it,” he said with a shrug. “If the United States and the world community do it, there is a chance the issue can be contained. If Israel has to do it alone, there is no chance the conflict can be contained.”

Mr. Lapid said he was sensitive to criticism that Israel was trying to push Washington into a potentially armed conflict with Iran that many Americans now oppose.

“Our mission is to point out the dangers we see, to ourselves and to our friends,” he said. “Avoiding speaking the truth does not mean you can then avoid facing the consequences of those facts,” he said.

The lawmakers met with their U.S. counterparts, as well as with senior administration officials, saying they highlighted the Iranian danger in all their meetings.

Asked if he thought the message got through, Mr. Steinitz said, “I did not get the feeling we were talking to the walls.”

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