Israel presses Austrian FM on Iran

PM, FM Stress importance of economic sanctions; Mossad chief: Iran still our greatest strategic threat.

ahmadinejad 224 88 (photo credit: )
ahmadinejad 224 88
(photo credit: )
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni tried to impress upon visiting Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik on Tuesday the necessity of strong economic sanctions against Iran to get it to change its nuclear polices. Austria, according to diplomatic officials, is among the "weakest links" in Europe regarding economic sanctions against Teheran. Among the issues that Livni raised with Plassnik, according to government officials, was a letter of memorandum Austria's state-owned energy and gas company OMV signed last April for a €22 billion agreement to develop Iranian gas and oil fields. That deal has brought upon Vienna a great deal of criticism not only from Israel, but from the US and other EU countries as well. Olmert, in his meeting with Plassnik, said that economic and energy sanctions imposed by the international community were proving their efficacy and needed to continue. Olmert's position, which has been repeated over the last few days in private meetings, is that it was important to re-energize the international community on the Iranian issue, that the existing pressure was proving effective, and that if this pressure could be ratcheted up a few notches, there would be a greater chance of success. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, along with Britain, has been trying to establish a regime of unified European sanctions - independent of UN measures - against Iran, but has faced resistance by some countries inside the EU such as Austria, Germany, Italy and Spain. This issue is expected to be the centerpiece of Olmert's talks early next week in Germany with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In a related development, Mossad head Meir Dagan briefed the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday and said Iran would attain offensive nuclear capabilities within three years. Dagan said Iran remained the central strategic threat to Israel, not only because it was striving for nuclear weapons, but also because of its influence on more imminent threats - such as Hamas, Hizbullah and Syria. Iran is acting on two tracks, Dagan said, one towards uranium enrichment, and the other towards manufacturing surface-to-surface missiles able to carry large payloads. He said Iran had not yet attained the full knowledge necessary to produce weapons-grade uranium, but was not far from reaching that benchmark point. Iran, he said, was upgrading its relationship with Syria, especially on information transfer, and was supplying the Palestinians with weapons, technology and training, especially in the Gaza Strip. He claimed that Iranian assistance would improve the range of rockets and missiles the Palestinians could fire into Israel. Syria and Hizbullah have studied the lessons of the Second Lebanon War and come to the conclusion that they were unable to overpower Israel and contend with its far superior firepower, Dagan said. Therefore, he added, they were investing their energies in developing missiles to target the home front, which they had recognized as Israel's weak point. "Rockets and missiles are a more substantial threat than they were in the past," Dagan said. "Syria is upgrading its arsenal of surface-to-surface missiles, and the number of missiles and rockets it possesses today is twice the amount it had only two years ago." According to Dagan, the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) made it harder to impose sanctions on Iran. It "pulls the rug out from under" diplomatic efforts to thwart the Iranian nuclear program, "leaving Israel to face the threat alone," he said.