(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel will be carefully watching Friday's meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency General Conference in Vienna to see whether the UN's atomic watchdog will admit Syria to its Board of Governors.
Syria is reportedly determined to push forward with its attempt to get on the board, representing the Middle East and South Asia regional group.
Syria's bid got a boost when Iran dropped out of the running on Wednesday, apparently after realizing that its chances of winning a seat were very slim.
Israeli officials, who have spoken to various countries in the IAEA about the absurdity of letting a country that allegedly developed a covert nuclear facility onto the board of the nuclear watchdog, said that Afghanistan is Syria's main competitor for the seat, and that it appears that most of the 145 countries on the General Conference would prefer Afghanistan.
Israeli officials point out that most of the decisions of the 35-member board are taken by consensus and that Syria's presence there would make it more difficult to pass resolutions against Damascus for IAEA violations, as well as against Iran, its close ally.
Syria is widely believed to have had a covert, plutonium producing reactor - said to have been built with North Korean help - that was allegedly destroyed by the IAF last year. Syria denies these claims and says the IAF hit an unmanned military facility.
The members of the IAEA board of governors are picked each year by the General Conference, the IAEA's governing body. While most decisions are taken by consensus, if there is no consensus - and there is not expected to be one regarding Syria - then the matter goes to a vote.
On Wednesday, meanwhile, IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei warned that the likelihood that terrorists would detonate a nuclear weapon posed the greatest risk to world security, surpassing proliferation threats from Iran and North Korea.
"Nuclear-armed terrorists are more dangerous than governments with atomic weapons because they don't have the same decision-making restraints," according to ElBaradei. "The rules of deterrence don't apply to them. If they get it, they will use it."
The IAEA has recorded 18 attempts to sell bomb-grade uranium and plutonium to black-market intermediaries since 1993. During the same period, the agency has tracked more than 1,300 incidents involving less-potent nuclear material that may be used to spread radioactive contamination.
ElBaradei appealed to the IAEA's 145 members to boost the agency's $16.5 million budget to combat nuclear terrorism. About 90 percent of the budget is restricted funding provided by the member states for specific projects, the IAEA chief said.
Bloomberg contributed to this report
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