Barak US 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
A day after US President Barack Obama said that the policies of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and election opponent Mir Hossein Mousavi were similar, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that both Iranian presidential candidates were fundamentalists.
"Whatever happens," he said in an interview with Army Radio, "this is an Ayatollah regime. We should not be confused about Mousavi - these people are fundamentalist Muslims."
Barak called the mass protests by Mousavi supporters "fascinating," explaining that "we must keep in mind that this is an Ayatollah's dictatorship, and the more force is used against the dissidents, the more the regime loses its legitimacy."
The defense minister also called on the world to respond quickly in order to prevent the Iranian government from advancing the Islamic republic's nuclear program.
"Iran is in the midst of a very dangerous process. Short-term plans must be made. We don't have too much time; we decided to leave all courses of action open and we expect others to do the same," Barak told the radio station.
On Tuesday, Israeli intelligence officials said that while the Iranian regime's decision to allow a partial recount of the presidential vote was "interesting," it was "highly unlikely" Mousavi would be declared the winner of last Friday's vote.
Defense officials told The Jerusalem Post there was little chance the Guardian Council would overturn its declaration that Ahmadinejad was the winner since it would be an embarrassment to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who endorsed the results.
The most that could be expected, officials said, was that the results would be changed by a few percentage points in Mousavi's favor.
Khamenei on Monday ordered the Guardian Council, an unelected body composed of 12 clerics and experts in Islamic law closely allied to the supreme leader, to investigate the election results after he met with Mousavi on Sunday. Mousavi also sent a letter to Khamenei outlining his allegations.
A spokesman for the Guardian Council, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, was quoted on state TV as saying the recount would be limited to voting sites where candidates claim irregularities took place. He did not rule out the possibility of canceling the results, saying doing so was within the council's powers, although nullifying an election would be an unprecedented step.
In Paris, Barak said the council's decision was an indication that the Iranian regime "was not indifferent" to the hundreds of thousands of pro-Mousavi demonstrators.
Mossad chief Meir Dagan told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that "what matters is the position of the [supreme] leader and this has not changed. The riots are taking place only in Teheran and one additional region. They won't last for long." Dagan said he didn't believe the riots would become a full-fledged revolution.
The violence in the wake of the allegations of vote-rigging was not different from "any other democracy," he said, adding that the discussion over the elections currently involved only a small sector of the Iranian population.
"What ultimately determines it is the spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and that has not changed. This is an argument within the Iranian elite. There is an argument regarding sources of influence, but this is an internal matter," he said.
Dagan also warned the Islamic republic could have an operational nuclear bomb ready for use by 2014, and dismissed claims that a second revolution was brewing in the streets of Teheran.
"In terms of the nuclear project, it's no longer a technical issue, because the Iranians have solved their technical problems," said Dagan. "If there aren't any technical errors, Iran will have a bomb ready for deployment by the end of 2014. This is a significant threat to the existence of the State of Israel and we need to distance this threat from us." Israel would actually have an easier time explaining the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons to the world if the country continued to be led by a hard-line, fanatical president [Ahmadinejad] than if Mir Hossein Mousavi, who is seen as a moderate, had won the election, Dagan said.
However, "we mustn't forget Mousavi is the one who started the nuclear program." Also Tuesday, government sources said their curiosity had been perked by European hints over the last few days that its relationship to Iran on the nuclear issue could be linked to how it dealt with the protests sweeping the country.
The 27 EU foreign ministers issued a statement on Monday saying the EU would continue to follow developments in Iran.
"It remains a priority for the EU that Iran engages with the concerns of the world community, above all on the issue of Iran's nuclear program," the statement said. "The [European] Council wishes to engage with the Islamic Republic of Iran on the basis of mutual respect, but it requires Iran to recognize and act urgently on its responsibilities and obligations."
According to government sources in Jerusalem, this was one of a few small hints popping up here and there indicating that an Iranian iron fist clamping down on the protesters could lead the international community to take a more forceful position on the nuclear issue.
The sources noted that both Germany and France on Monday summoned the Iranian ambassador to their capitals to express concern and receive explanations.
The sources warned, however, against overstating the case, saying the situation in Iran was still delicate and fluid, and it was much too early to tell how it would play out regarding the world's relationship with the Islamic republic.
The sources said the international community had for months largely been in a holding position regarding Iran for the past few months, waiting to see how the elections played out. It was quite possible, though again too early to tell, that the pictures coming out of Teheran would leave some kind of impression on the West that would impact on the diplomacy surrounding the nuclear issue, they said.
"When the Iranians are at their worst, the international community tends to pull back from them and sober up regarding any illusions they have that the regime might be more flexible," one source said. "In that case one of the things the Iranians can do is possibly send out 'warm and fuzzies' on the nuclear issue."
The clerical government appears to be trying to defuse popular anger and quash unrest by announcing the limited recount, even as it cracks down on foreign media and shows its strength by calling supporters to the streets.