Just as the UN Security Council prepares to discuss Iran sanctions on Thursday, Iranian officials said they would not hesitate to carry out a military strike against Israel if their country came under "threat."
Following the International Atomic Energy Agency's censure against Iran last month, the open meeting of the Council's sanctions committee on Thursday is set to focus on sanctions violations, with considerations of possible new sanctions, officials said. But the meeting also comes amid concerns over Iran's various leadership roles at the UN, including its appointment this week as chair of the UN Industrial Development Organization's General Conference in Vienna.
Ahead of the sanctions committee briefing, Iranian Defense Minister Brig.-Gen. Ahmad Vahidi was quoted on Wednesday by the Islamic Republic News Agency as saying, "Should the Zionist forces pose any threat against Israel, we will never hesitate to target their nuclear sites and centers for proliferation of chemical, biochemical, as well as dirty and prohibited weapons."
As Western diplomats consider more sanctions against Iran, Israeli officials stressed that the Iranian threat was a "matter for the international community," not just Israel. But in recent months, Israel's ambassador to the UN, Gabriela Shalev, has stressed the Iranian threat, highlighting recent cases where Israeli authorities intercepted arms shipments bound for Hizbullah operatives.
"There are Security Council resolutions and the international community has to see that those resolutions are complied with," an Israeli official said. "We have strong concerns about the way Iran is complying with Security Council resolutions. And its not a matter for Israel, it's a matter for the international community."
But even as the Security Council's sanctions committee puts Iran in the docket, some criticized the various leadership roles held by Iran at the UN. This week, Iran was appointed chair of the UN Industrial Development Organization's General Conference, the policy making body that meets every two years, which is currently taking place in Vienna.
Iran also was recently elected chair of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs.
"Days after it was censored by the UN's nuclear watchdog, Iran has been elected to head the UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Am I missing something here?" US Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement. "After continuing to delay, deceive, and manipulate the UN and responsible nations, it is ludicrous that Iran would be entrusted to helm an agency with the mandate to fight illegal drugs.
In the case of the UNIDO chairmanship, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry of Sweden, which holds the EU presidency this year, told Cybercast News Service, "There are no sanctions or limitations when it comes to Iran's work in the UN."
But US Rep. Dana Rohrbacher, a California Republican, told CNS that Iran's chairmanship should dissuade the US from returning to UNIDO.
"We should not be a part of any agency the UN permits Iran to lead considering that decision reconfirms what the UN is really all about," he said.
In the case of UNIDO, committee leadership is determined by regional voting blocs, with rotating control of the post.
"In accordance with UNIDO General Conference (GC) rules and procedures, Asian Member States nominated the Permanent Representative of Iran as President of the Conference," a UNIDO spokesman said. "He was officially confirmed and took up this position on Monday during the opening session of the Conference."
Last month, the IAEA rebuked Iran for its nuclear activities and censured its building a uranium enrichment facility near Qom. Teheran responded by announcing a significant expansion of its nuclear program, including 10 more nuclear plants.
While Israeli diplomats did not specifically address the matter, other critics of Iran said the country's chairmanships at the UN undercut the UN charter.
"How incongruous is that?" asked Ambassador Mark Wallace, a former US representative for UN management and reform who is now president of the group United Against a Nuclear Iran. "I think it's a sad commentary on the lack of international will right now, that the international community will allow Iran to have a leadership role in the very same international organization that is at the same time sanctioning Iran for violating its obligations under the charter of that organization." Wallace speculated that seeking leadership roles was part of an Iranian strategy to legitimize the government back home. "It is very strategic. No one should think otherwise," he said. "Iran is misusing its membership to confer legitimacy to its regime."
Other states with problematic track records - such as Libya, Syria and Sudan - also play important roles. "The UN is color blind when it comes to human rights abuses, indignities, the spread of terrorism on many fronts," said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of The Israel Project. "It has an obsession with Israel, which it seems to believe is not legitimate, whereas it turns a blind eye to what so many countries like Syria and Iran, are doing."
She recommended that Iran be stripped of its leadership roles at the UN. "This is the largest state sponsor of terrorism," she noted.
"Being invited to have a perspective on issues that pertain to daily life is immoral, impractical and should stop."