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(photo credit: AP)
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz called on Russia to reconsider its decision to meet with Hamas leaders in Moscow later this month in a meeting yesterday with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov at the NATO forum in Taormina, Sicily.
According to security officials, Mofaz informed Ivanov that he was personally willing to visit Moscow to explain the dangers of legitimizing Hamas, which is and remains a terror organization, he said.
Russia's invitation to Hamas has created a schism in the united international front against terror, Mofaz said. "I ask you to reconsider your decision, which is problematic and legitimizes Hamas's existence," he said.
Mofaz recalled Russian President Vladimir Putin's past statements demanding that the international community stand as a united front in combatting terror. "Today we have the capability to utilize that cooperation; you suffer from the Chechnya threat as we suffer from Hamas and Hizbullah, and the world from al-Qaida," Mofaz told Ivanov.
Israel, which enjoyed widespread international support in its stand, continued to maintain a policy of refusing to embark on any dialogue with terror organizations, Mofaz said. At the same time, Israel expected Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to disarm terror groups and proceed with the road map, he said.
It was illogical that Russia, which called on the international community to combat terror, was at the same time willing to open its gates to Hamas leaders, Mofaz said. Especially at a time when Israel had succeeded in receiving widespread support from the world not to embark on dialogue with a terror organization, he added.
Hamas sought to create a PA filled with terror, Mofaz said. Its victory directly affected the future of the PA and raised questions concerning who would lead the Palestinian people in the future, he said.
Because of the situation in the PA-controlled areas, Ivanov agreed to postpone the transport there of 50 armored carriers. Security officials noted that the decision to supply carriers to the PA was stipulated in an agreement between Putin and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The two defense ministers also discussed the Iranian nuclear threat. Mofaz highlighted the need to impose sanctions on Iran, noting that the fact that the issue was discussed in the UN Security Council did not satisfy the necessity for further action, officials said. Mofaz also noted that Iran's race to attain nuclear capability focused on two different programs, an open civilian program and a covert military program.
Mofaz also discussed Syria and noted that weapons systems supplied by Russia fell into the hands of Hizbullah. He cited the example of the RPGs fired by Hizbullah during an attempt to abduct soldiers in an attack on Ghajar in November.
Ivanov invited Mofaz to visit Moscow, and the two also discussed the future visit of the Russian chief of general staff to Israel, security officials said.
On Friday, in a speech before the NATO forum that included defense ministers from Arab countries, Mofaz declared, "Call on the international community to refrain from holding talks with Hamas and adopt a unified stance that prevents any dialogue with terror organizations."
The Hamas victory in the recent Palestinian Legislative Council elections was not a triumph of democracy but a defeat for the forces of peace in the region, Mofaz said.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer insisted Friday that the Hamas victory had cut short tentative efforts by NATO to build ties with the PA authorities.
"It's an absolute impossibility to have any kind of dealing with Hamas by NATO," Scheffer told a news conference. "Contact with Hamas is out of the question."
Defense Ministry officials noted that aside from the NATO countries, representatives of Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan and Mauritania were also in attendance.
All the NATO ministers appeared united in their concern about the Iranian nuclear threat, officials said, and expressed to Mofaz statements such as, "The Iranians are planning a second Holocaust against the Jewish people and the State of Israel, which must be prevented," and, "If the Western world was divided over Iraq, everyone is unanimous in their belief that Iran must be prevented from attaining nuclear capability."
Meanwhile, media reports claimed that Scheffer dismissed calls requesting that Israel receive NATO membership as a security umbrella against Iranian threats. According to the reports, Scheffer declared that the issue of granting Israel membership "is not on the table."
While Israel has improved its relationship with NATO over the last year, it has not asked for formal membership.