(photo credit: AP [file])
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began a visit, his first since taking office, to Syria Thursday to consolidate an old alliance made increasingly crucial as both countries face mounting US pressure and the threat of international sanctions.
Iran's standoff with the West over its nuclear program and the threat to refer it to the UN Security Council as well as Syria's own troubles over a UN investigation that implicated it in the assassination of a Lebanese politician were expected to figure high in the talks between Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Newly appointed Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said, "Israel, as well as the entire world should be concerned with the meeting between those two leaders, and the cooperation between the two countries."
Livni also reiterated Israel's demand that Iran be referred to the UN Security Council.
Former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter, who is considered a top choice for a future defense minister, said Thursday that Israel should let the international community act to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons but, if pushed to the wall, should act against Iran.
Dichter told Army Radio that Israel was currently satisfied with the international community's efforts to stop Iran from enriching uranium but must act if it faces the real danger of Iran possessing nuclear weapons.
"I don't think it is correct for Israel to act alone on a matter that really disturbs and engages the enlightened countries of the world, lead by the United States," Dichter said. "If we feel that we are facing an imminent threat, Israel has the real insights and a bit of experience on how to deal with such matters a moment before someone tries to destroy us."
French President Jaque Chirac added Thursday in a surprising comment that leaders of states who would "use terrorist means against us, just like anyone who would envisage using, in one way or another, arms of mass destruction, must understand that they would expose themselves to a firm and adapted response from us."
"This response could be conventional. It could also be of another nature," Chirac said in the speech given at a nuclear submarine base in western France.
In addition to discussing how to stave off the mounting international pressure, the two were also expected to discuss bilateral economic, industrial and cultural agreements during the two-day visit.
Syria is Iran's closest Arab ally. The two countries have had close relations since 1980 when Arab Syria sided with Persian Iran against Iraq, a fellow Arab nation, in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq border war.
On the eve of the visit, Ahmadinejad described bilateral relations as "strong and good."
Both countries share to a certain extent similar foreign policy objectives: opposition to what they describe as US attempts to dominate the Middle East, hostility toward Israel and support for Palestinian and Lebanese terrorist groups.
Iran's insistence to proceed with its peaceful nuclear activities have raised great concern in the European Union and the United States, which have been pushing for a referral of the issue to the UN Security Council, a first step toward possible sanctions.
Syria faces international accusations of failing to fully cooperate with the UN investigation into last year's assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri.
Ahmadinejad on Wednesday accused the West of acting like the "lord of the world" in denying his country peaceful use of nuclear energy.