(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel, which for months has been calling for the Iranian nuclear issue to be brought to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions, applauded the British, French and German decision Thursday to do just that.
"Israel supports the European position," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. "We believe that the international community - through the UN Security Council - must present the Iranian regime with a clear dilemma, either they totally cease their nuclear weapons program, or they endanger their relationship with the outside world."
The foreign ministers of the three European countries, who have been conducting negotiations with the Iranians for more than two years to get them to close down their uranium enrichment program, said after a meeting in Berlin that the negotiations with Teheran had reached a "dead end." They called for a special meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency to decide on moving the issue to the Security Council.
The announcement came just two days after Iran broke UN seals at a uranium enrichment plant and said it was resuming nuclear research after a two-year freeze. Enriched uranium can be used as fuel for nuclear energy and weapons.
"From our point of view, the time has come for the UN Security Council to become involved," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
Regev, reflecting the diplomatic line Israel has followed since the Iranian nuclear question became a major issue, said "Iran is the world's problem. If there is a diplomatic solution, it is because the organized community says enough is enough."
Israel has been cautious in not taking the lead on this matter, feeling that the diplomatic track would yield better results if it were led by the British, French and Germans.
While there has been concern in Jerusalem that Russia or China, both with massive economic interests in Iran, might veto Security Council sanctions, there is now satisfaction that the idea of slapping significant sanctions on the Iranians is picking up momentum. There is some expectation that now that the Europeans have joined the US in wanting to see the issue taken to the UN, the Russians might "come on board," and then it would be difficult for the Chinese to obstruct matters.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said at Sunday's cabinet meeting that Russia, which unsuccessfully tried to get the Iranians to enrich the uranium in Russia to allay fears that the technology would be used to develop nuclear weapons, was "close to supporting moving the issue to the Security Council." Israel, according to diplomatic sources, was in contact with both countries about this issue.
Former deputy chief of General Staff Uzi Dayan revealed Thursday that he recently met with Iranian figures who told him Teheran is "very determined" to acquire nuclear weapons.
Dayan, now heading the new political party Taglit, said the meetings took place in Europe on more than one occasion.
He declined to identify the participants, but said they came from Iranian academic and civil servant circles, adding: "They represent the official Iranian position."
Dayan said his contacts confirmed that Iran is on the road to developing nuclear weapons. "They are very determined to get to develop this nuclear capability, together with surface-to-surface ballistic missiles," he said.
Dayan called on the international community to put pressure on Iran to abandon its weapons program. He said diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions, such as an oil embargo, should be the first option, with military action a last resort.
He said any military action should be carried out by an international alliance, including the US and Western European nations. But if "worse comes to worse," Israel should be ready to act alone, he said.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in an interview last week with the Japanese newspaper Nikkei Shimbun, said that while Israel was not "spearheading the battle to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear," it has "been engaged in intensive negotiations, behind the scenes, to deal with the Iranian issue."
He said Israel was working with the US and Europe "when it comes to intelligence, when it comes to the evaluation of the situation."
Asked whether he would act similarly to prime minister Menachem Begin, who gave orders to bomb the Iraqi nuclear plant in 1981, Sharon replied, "Look, I was a member of the cabinet when this decision was taken, and I had an important role in taking that decision in 1981. First, there are different circumstances; it's a different thing. I believe that we are still in a phase of diplomatic effort. I think that Iran should be brought to the Security Council and that sanctions should be taken. I believe that we are still in a phase that we still can stop it."
AP contributed to this report.