PM: World too slow in standing up to Iran

Teheran test-fires long-range Shihab-3 missile, conducts military exercises.

Hours after Iran test-fired its long-range Shihab-3 missile, which can carry a nuclear warhead and reach Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Thursday castigated the international community for not "standing up" to the military threat posed by Teheran. "The enlightened world has perhaps awoken, but it has yet to stand up to thwart the danger from Iran - and we are doing all that we can to make the world take action," Olmert told the Knesset during a special session held to mark the 11th anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Iranian state television said the Shihab-3 was just one of several types of missiles that were being tested. It broadcast footage of the missiles being fired from mobile launchers during large-scale desert maneuvers. Viewers could see the missiles streak up into the sky, leaving billows of smoke. National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer warned that Iran was following North Korea on the path to a nuclear bomb and had to be thwarted. Israel declined to comment officially on the tests. "We are keeping a low profile on this. We are certainly not ignoring it, but you won't find us taking the lead," a Defense Ministry source said. The newly appointed minister in charge of strategic threats, Avigdor Lieberman, also had no comment. In general, a government source said, "The State of Israel views the Iranian threat as an existential threat to the country; the rest of its actions, activities and policies with regard to Iran are best left unsaid." Giora Eiland, the former head of the National Security Council, said there were many questions still unanswered about the success of the test, such as the accuracy of the missiles and the type of warheads they carried. "We want to show our deterrent and defensive power to transregional enemies, and we hope they will understand the message," the head of the Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, said in a reference to the United States, Britain and France, three of the six nations that took part in naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf this week. Iran's state radio said that its ongoing military exercises were "aimed at providing security in the region without the intervention of trans-regional powers, which are trying to justify their presence by portraying the region as convulsive." Ben-Eliezer said he was not surprised by the tests, and warned that leaving Iran unchecked would pose a global risk. "Iran is following a direct line after North Korea. Therefore this problem is not Israel's but that of the entire world," Ben-Eliezer said, referring to North Korea's recent nuclear test and its frequent launches of long-range missiles. The Shihab-3 missile, which is believed to have a range of more than 2,000 kilometers, is apparently based on a North Korean missile, although Iran denies this. The Iranian missile tests "should bother not only Israel. It should bother the Arab countries, Islamic countries, the Gulf region, North Africa and Europe. We are always warning the world about this phenomenon called Iran," Ben-Eliezer said. Iran has already held three largescale military exercises this year. Safavi, whose Revolutionary Guards conducted the tests, said the "Great Prophet" maneuvers that began Thursday would be conducted in the Gulf, the Sea of Oman and several provinces of Iran. He did not say how many troops were involved. Iranian television reported that the Shihab-2 was also among the rockets fired; it can carry a warhead with 1,400 bomblets. Iranian state radio quoted the Revolutionary Guards' air force chief, Gen. Hossein Salami, as saying, "A large number of advanced missiles, different in range, warhead and kind, were successfully test-fired at the same time." In the Knesset on Thursday, Olmert reminded the plenum that Israel stood at the forefront of the war with Iran three months ago when it fought in Lebanon against the Iranian- and Syrian-backed terrorist group Hizbullah. Speaking in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, the spokesman for the US secretary of state, Sean McCormack, said the war between Israel and Hizbullah was a "clarifying moment in the Middle East." The war exposed the link between Hizbullah, Hamas, Syria and Iran, said McCormack. It showed the division between those that sought freedom, prosperity and peace and those that don't want to see peace either between Israel and the Palestinians or Israel and Lebanon. Olmert is scheduled to visit Washington in the next two weeks and Iran is expected to dominate his conversations with US President George W. Bush. Olmert reportedly met on Thursday with US National Intelligence Director John Negroponte. He also met with Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch. Welch and Abrams also met with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who told them the international community needed to enforce Security Council Resolution 1701, specifically the arms embargo on Hizbullah, in light of reports that Syria was smuggling weapons to the Islamist organization. They discussed ways to strengthen PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party in their power struggle with Hamas. Livni also talked about ways to prevent arms smuggling from Egypt into Gaza, Palestinian violence including Kassam rockets, and the IDF incursions in Gaza this week. In his Thursday speech, Olmert said the PA was continuing to "fan the flames of hatred and acts of terror, despite the heavy price paid by the Palestinian people, as well as the price we are paying." AP contributed to this report.