J'lem downplays Iranian threat; Olmert: I respect Assad

"No need to lose our heads," says PM; also says he "respects" Assad, willing to negotiate peace directly.

September 18, 2007 00:37
iran shihab test, awesome 224 ap

iran shihab test, awesom. (photo credit: AP [file])


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Israeli officials are treating Iran's latest claims that it has 600 Shihab-3 missiles aimed at targets throughout the country the same way it treated Teheran's claims last month to have crossed a key nuclear threshold: by listening carefully, but not believing everything they hear. "We don't believe all the Iranian rhetoric. I don't even think the average Iranian believes it," a senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said of the Monday claim. "We are not flippant and are watching carefully, but that doesn't mean we believe everything they say." The official said that few in the world believed Iranian claims earlier this month that they had 3,000 centrifuges in place and running - a process that could produce enough enriched uranium for an atom bomb within a year. "They just want the world to believe that they have passed the point of no return, so that any further pressure would be useless," the official said. Likewise, regarding the Shihab missiles, the official said the Iranians wanted to try and frighten the world away from thinking about possible military action. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a similar statement at a briefing with senior journalists from Israel's Russian-language media on Monday, saying that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was trying to frighten the world into thinking that it was "too late" to get the Iranians to stop their nuclear march. Olmert said Israel was not afraid of the situation in Iran: "We are concerned, but we don't have to lose our head." Earlier Monday, an Iranian Web site affiliated with the regime reported that 600 Shihab-3 missiles were pointed at targets throughout Israel and would be launched if either Iran or Syria were attacked. "Iran will shoot 600 missiles at Israel if it is attacked," the Iranian news Web site, Assar Iran, reported, saying such a barrage would "only be the first reaction." According to the report, dozens of locations throughout Iraq being used by the US Army have also been targeted. The Shihab missile has a range of 1,300 km. and can reach anywhere in Israel. The report on the Iranian Web site came fast on the heels of the reports of an alleged IAF bombing raid inside Syria of what some foreign news reports say was a nuclear cache or installation. Olmert, in his first remarks about Syria since the alleged raid almost two weeks ago, said at the Monday briefing that he "respects" Syrian President Bashar Assad. Olmert also repeated what he has said numerous times over the last few months: that Israel is ready for direct negotiations with Syria without any preconditions. Assad, meanwhile, was reported to have been "furious" at the release of information about Israel's alleged incursion. According to a report Monday in the Kuwaiti newspaper A-Siasa, Assad "decided to establish a committee that will investigate how classified information on the infiltration of Israeli planes was leaked to Arab media." According to the report, Assad ordered Syrian intelligence commander Asaf Shawkat, General Intelligence Directorate head Ali Mamlouk and Air force Commander Abed al-Fatah Kodsya to head the committee. "President Assad ordered the generals not to be negligent and to probe everyone involved, regardless of his rank or position," said the report. Syrian media were quick to divulge information on the apparent raid, releasing reports that IAF jets had broken the sound barrier and dropped fuel tanks over deserted areas in northern Syria, along its border with Turkey, only an afternoon after the operation allegedly took place on September 7. On Sunday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner raised the likelihood of a military action to get Iran to end its nuclear program. Kouchner, who was in Israel last week and discussed the Iranian situation with Olmert, said the crisis over Iran's nuclear program forced the world "to prepare ourselves for the worst," specifying that could mean a war. Kouchner emphasized, however, that negotiations should still be the preferred course of action. In addition to saying the world should prepare for war if Iran obtains nuclear weapons, he said European leaders were considering their own economic sanctions against the Islamic country. Last month, French President Nicolas Sarkozy hinted that Iran could be attacked if it did not halt its nuclear program. He said in a speech that if the diplomatic approach did not work, the world could be faced with a "catastrophic" dilemma - "an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran." Israeli diplomatic officials said that Kouchner and Sarkozy were not necessarily spelling out a new French policy, since France has for years been the most supportive country in Europe regarding Israel's position on this matter, but that the two leaders' blunt style was simply much different than their predecessors'. "The substance hasn't changed," one Israeli official said, "only the style." In response to Kouchner's comments, Iran's state-owned news agency accused France of pandering to the interests of the United States. "The new occupants of the Elysee [Presidential palace] want to copy the White House," the IRNA news agency said in an editorial. The editorial added that Sarkozy was taking on "an American skin." Kouchner's statements came just hours after US Defense Secretary Robert Gates reiterated the Bush administration's commitment, at least for the time being, to using diplomatic and economic means to counter the potential nuclear threat from Iran. "I think that the administration believes at this point that continuing to try and deal with the Iranian threat, the Iranian challenge, through diplomatic and economic means is by far the preferable approach. That's the one we are using," the Pentagon chief said on Sunday. Meanwhile, the UN's chief nuclear negotiator, Muhammad ElBaradei, criticized talk of attacking Iran as "hype" on Monday, saying such options should only be considered as a last resort and only if authorized by the UN Security Council. "I would not talk about any use of force," said ElBaradei, who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency, in an indirect response to Kouchner. Saying only the UN Security Council could authorize the use of force, ElBaradei urged the world to remember Iraq before considering any similar action against Teheran. "There are rules on how to use force, and I would hope that everybody would have gotten the lesson after the Iraq situation, where 700,000 innocent civilians have lost their lives on the suspicion that a country has nuclear weapons," he told reporters. ElBaradei, speaking outside a 144-nation meeting of his agency, urged both sides to back away from confrontation, in comments addressed both to Iran and the US-led group of nations pressing for new UN sanctions on Teheran for its refusal to end uranium enrichment. AP contributed to this report.

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