(photo credit: AP)
Israel delivered a rare public jab to Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, on Thursday, after ElBaradei traded barbs with Israel's envoy at the IAEA meeting in Vienna over the UN nuclear watchdog's probe of Syria's alleged nuclear activities.
The Foreign Ministry, in a carefully worded statement approved at the highest levels in Jerusalem, called on the IAEA director-general "to prevent political bias in the investigation into Syria's covert nuclear activities," implying that a political bias was contaminating the investigation.
The 35-member IAEA on Thursday discussed atomic particles found in the Syrian capital, which weren't declared to the IAEA in the country's inventory of nuclear material. The group is in the fourth day of a quarterly meeting, which has included discussions on the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea.
The Syrians claim the traces of uranium found at the Deir a-Zour site came from depleted uranium - which hardens metal and allows bombs and missiles to penetrate deeper - it charges Israel used in razing the facility in September 2007. That, says Syria, accounts for one instance of the uranium traces.
Israel has denied the allegations and repeatedly told the IAEA it did not use such ordnance - something Israel's envoy at the meeting, Israel Michaeli, repeated in his comments Thursday to the IAEA's board.
"Israel has responded... in good faith" to the allegations, he said, in comments to the closed meeting made available to The Associated Press. "Therefore, the repeated call by the director-general on Israel to cooperate with this investigation is redundant.
"Had the director-general wished for further information from Israel, he would have not refused to meet with Israeli officials and refrained from publicly lashing [out] at Israel," Michaeli said. "Israel calls on the director-general to avoid political bias in dealing with the Syrian file."
ElBaradei has repeatedly criticized the Israeli attack, saying it complicated the chances of success of his agency's probe.
Diplomats first told the AP that ElBaradei was boycotting requests for meetings with Israel officials earlier this year. The agency back then refused to comment.
The IAEA chief was angered by Michaeli's remarks, and according to AFP responded that Israel's position was "totally distorted."
"We're not behaving selectively but across the board. We're implementing the international law. When Israel bombed what was claimed to be a nuclear facility, it was not only hampering our work, but it was a clear violation of international law," ElBaradei said.
"You, sir, your action is deplored (sic) by not allowing us to do what we're supposed to do under international law," AFP quoted the IAEA chief as saying.
"You're not even a member of the regime to tell us what to do," ElBaradei said, referring to Israel's refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
"We would appreciate it if you stopped preaching to us."
This was one of the few times that the nature of the spats between ElBaradei and Israel, who have been at odds for years over the Iranian nuclear issue, have been made public. ElBaradei is to leave his post in November.
The Foreign Ministry statement said Michaeli addressed the severe findings on Syria in the report, and "called on the IAEA to complete its investigation into Syria's covert nuclear activities."
According to the statement, Michaeli objected to the insertion of Israel's name into the report, "despite it being irrelevant to the investigation under discussion. He emphasized that Israel has already responded to the agency's application regarding the finding of uranium particles at the site of the Syrian nuclear plant in Deir a-Zour."