Mofaz taken to task over Iran remark

Follows minister's threat that if Iran continues nuclear weapons development, Israel will attack it.

ElBaradei 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
ElBaradei 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israeli defense and diplomatic officials, as well as the head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, took Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz to task over the weekend for saying that Israel will attack Iran if it continues to develop nuclear weapons. Mofaz was quoted in Friday's Yediot Aharonot, in a promotional piece for an interview to appear on Sunday, as saying, "If Iran continues its plan to develop nuclear weapons, we will attack it. The window of opportunity has closed. The sanctions are not effective. There will be no choice but to attack Iran to stop its nuclear program." Mofaz, in charge of strategic dialogue with the US, has for months been a key figure in the Israeli-US dialogue on this matter. His comments were highlighted in the lead headline on the front page of Friday's Yediot. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev declined to respond directly to Mofaz's statement, but indicated that it did not necessarily reflect the prime minister's thinking. "All options must remain on the table," Regev said. "At this time we believe that what are needed are tangible steps by the international community, steps that will put pressure on the regime in Teheran." Regev said Olmert discussed those steps during his visit last week in Washington, a visit that included a meeting that focused on Iran with US President George W. Bush. Among the measures aimed at ratcheting up international pressure on Teheran are a ban on the export of refined petroleum products to Iran, a ban on travel by Iranian businessmen abroad, and stiffer sanctions by the international community on Iranian financial institutions. Regev said those elements in the international community who wanted a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear problem had to "get serious" about diplomacy, because only if diplomatic steps were taken seriously did they have a chance of succeeding. Defense officials said Mofaz's comments were harmful for Israel. "We need to stop Iran, but not to appear that we are leading the world efforts to stop the Iranian nuclear efforts," one official said. Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i released a statement Sunday saying that "the cynical use of Israel's strategic matters for party politics is beyond the pale and very serious." Vilna'i said it would be wise to remain silent and "leave matters of security to those taking care of them." Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan, also chided Mofaz. "In every subject related to war, it's preferable for ministers not to speak unless it has been decided on ahead of time in a careful and organized way," he told Israel Radio. On Friday, oil prices made their biggest single-day jump ever, and traders cited Mofaz's comment - which hinted at the possibility of instability and a disruption of global oil supplies - as one of the reasons for the spike. One government source, meanwhile, said that Mofaz's comments must be seen within the context of the political jockeying inside Kadima to replace Olmert. According to this source, Mofaz is staking out a hawkish position on a number of issues because he feels this will resonate well with Kadima voters in his competition with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. In this same vein, the official said, Mofaz only last week came out against a withdrawal from the Golan Heights as part of a peace deal with Syria. The source said Mofaz's comments on Iran were bound to cause confusion, since they came after Olmert made clear in Washington that he thought the diplomatic efforts against Iran still needed to be allowed to run their course. Meanwhile, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, criticized Mofaz for his comments in an interview to be published Tuesday in the German magazine Der Spiegel. "With unilateral military actions, countries are undermining international agreements, and we are at a historic turning point," ELBaradei said, referring both to Mofaz's statements and to Israel's strike on an alleged Syrian nuclear reactor in September. The nuclear watchdog chief did not spare criticism of Teheran as well, saying Iran's leaders were sending "a message to the entire world: We can build a bomb in relatively short time." ElBaradei said the IAEA had "pressing questions" and that "the readiness on Iran's side to cooperate leaves a lot to be desired." He also said he expected "absolute transparency" from Syria as a team of nuclear inspectors heads to the suspected nuclear site later this month. He added that the IAEA would insist on visiting a number of other sites suspected to be connected to the bombed facility. Syria is reportedly resisting such demands.