Tuesday, February 6, 2007

‘Never again’

An Israeli politician is warning members of Congress that his country will attack Iran within four years unless the United States or other foreign powers can stop the Islamic republic, which has vowed to destroy Israel, from developing nuclear arms or other weapons of mass destruction.

“WMDs, nuclear weapons in the hands of the Iranians will push Israel beyond all limits,” Efraim Eitam, a member of the Israeli parliament’s Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, told our correspondent Sharon Behn.

“Israel will have no choice but to attack in the next three to four years.”

To emphasize his point, he added, “Israel will not live under a threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran. If diplomatic efforts and economic sanctions, which have to be much more intensified, … fail, then Israel will have to take action.”

Mr. Eitam said the message he left with members of Congress with whom he met was that Israel, which is assumed to have nuclear weapons, will not be left in a state of nuclear standoff with Iran, similar to the policy of mutual assured destruction that kept the United States and the Soviet Union from launching first strikes during the Cold War.

“We have the memory of the Holocaust, and I told the congressmen that I met, ‘Don’t even think that Israel will accept some mutual deterrence like you had under the Cold War,’ ” he said.

Mr. Eitam, a member of the self-described right-wing National Union Party, also blamed Israel’s political and military leaders for the failed war in Lebanon and assessed the likelihood of a conflict with Syria, which backs Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon.

“We were all shocked by the poor results of the [Israel Defense Forces] activity, but now we will be ready in less than a year for three major scenarios: a Gaza land operation to go after the terror infrastructure; ready for another round with Hezbollah … [that] will bring us into some kind of engagement with Syria; [and] most important, the Iranian nuclear project,” he said.

Mr. Eitam explained that threats facing Israel are rekindling thoughts of the Holocaust and the realization that Israelis might have to face those threats alone.

“The Holocaust ghosts are coming back into the minds of all Israelis,” he said. “Action will be taken with or without a world coalition.”

Mr. Eitam, 53, said he is among the generation of Israelis born after World War II who grew up with Holocaust survivors. He lived in a kibbutz with 60 other families, most of whom were prisoners in Nazi death camps.

“We learned numbers from the blue tattoos on the arms. We learned from the screams of our members during their nightmares,” he said.

“We were raised with one major oath: Never again.”

Vietnam tolerant

A top State Department official praised Vietnam for a “lot of progress” on the resettlement of Vietnamese Christians who cited religious persecution as the reason they fled to neighboring Cambodia since 2001.

Ellen R. Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migrations, traveled to Vietnam’s Central Highlands earlier this week and interviewed seven refugees.

“I have to report that, with no exceptions, the people who were returned from Cambodia that we spoke with all indicated that there has been no punishment,” she told reporters in the capital, Hanoi, after returning from her visit.

Vietnam offered to repatriate about 750 ethnic Montagnards, who sided with the United States during the Vietnam War, in a January 2005 agreement with Cambodia and the United Nations.

“We have made a lot of progress,” Mrs. Sauerbrey said. “I commend the government of Vietnam, as it has become more tolerant of people’s right to worship.”

Human rights groups, however, still suspect widespread religious persecution in Vietnam. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom cited “severe restrictions on religious freedom and abuses” in Vietnam in a letter in November to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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