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(photo credit: AP [file])
Next year will be a critical one in efforts to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said Tuesday.
"Iran's nuclear program is proceeding like an express train. The diplomatic efforts to thwart Iran are like a slow train. If we cannot derail the Iranian train from the tracks, we are on the verge of a nuclear era that will totally alter the regional reality," the former defense minister and IDF chief of General Staff told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations in New York.
Mofaz, who is also deputy prime minister, is scheduled to hold talks in Washington on Wednesday with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
On Thursday, Mofaz will head the Israeli delegation at a Strategic Dialogue meeting with American leaders. The delegation includes senior officials from the Foreign and Defense ministries and from elsewhere in the security establishment.
Another warning that time is running out came on Tuesday from Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz, head of Military Intelligence's research bureau, who told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that if Iran's nuclear program went unchecked, the Islamic Republic could have nuclear weapons by the end of 2009.
"Iran's conservative sect is gaining power. The Iranian regime is faced with internal issues, but there is no threat to its existence or stability. Assuming it faces no difficulties, the worst case scenario is Iran obtaining nuclear arms by 2009," said Baidatz. He added that the regime of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remained popular throughout the region, despite criticism farther abroad.
Israel's response to the Iranian nuclear program will be periodically reevaluated to check its effectiveness, said Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who also addressed the committee.
"The things that we do behind the scenes, far from the public eye, are far more important than the slogan charade. Talks don't make threats go away. We must show good judgment and act wisely," said Barak.
The latest warnings over the Iranian nuclear threat follow the public criticism of International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei on Monday by Foreign Ministry Director-General Aharon Abramovitch.
Addressing the Saban Forum in Jerusalem, Abramovitch said that instead of helping to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear potential, the UN body was an obstacle to such efforts. The IAEA provided an excuse to states that preferred not to join the international community's efforts to prevent a nuclear Iran, he said.
The timing of the current Israeli diplomatic offensive is no coincidence.
Later this month, the IAEA is scheduled to present a periodic report to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.
Based largely on this report, the Security Council will decide whether to back a third round of sanctions on Iran. Two permanent Security Council members, Russia and China, have so far refused to endorse stepped-up sanctions.
Sources in Jerusalem told The Jerusalem Post that another rosy report from ElBaradei, stressing Iranian cooperation and the need for more time, could give Moscow and Beijing an excuse to block a further round of sanctions.
Jerusalem believes that the current sanctions are effective but are not enough to persuade Teheran to stop pursuing its nuclear ambitions.
Israeli sources suspect that ElBaradei may want to prevent war at any cost, saying that he is very influenced by what happened in Iraq. His warnings before the second Gulf war that Baghdad did not possess weapons of mass destruction failed to prevent a military conflict.