US, Israel see eye to eye on Iran threat

Sen. Jon Kyl to 'Post': Both countries differ only on estimate of when Iran will become nuclear.

jon kyl 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
jon kyl 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel and the US see nearly eye-to-eye on the threat of a nuclear Iran, differing only on when Teheran will be able to build an atomic bomb, a key American senator told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. "There is now and always has been a slight difference of opinion about the precise timing of the threat of [a nuclear] Iran, but in response to the fundamental nature of Iran's desire to acquire nuclear weapons, and its ongoing development of fuels for that purpose, there is no difference of opinion in that regard," said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona). Recent intelligence assessments provided to the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee suggested that Iran could have a nuclear weapon by the end of 2009. US intelligence estimates, however, say it will take the Islamic Republic at least one year longer. Kyl is the Senate minority whip and a close ally of Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Kyl, who led a group of four US legislators in the Bicameral Delegation on US-Israeli security issues in a visit to the country this week, said they had access to the "full picture" of the recent US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, and fully understood the threat posed by Teheran acquiring nuclear weapons. MKs on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which meets twice a year with the Bicameral Delegation, had expressed concern that the US report downplaying the threat of Teheran's nuclear weapons program could lead the American government to underestimate Iran. Several legislators joined Kyl in dismissing that concern on Monday, stressing that the Iranian issue was at the top of their agenda as they met with key security officials across Israel this week. "This has been raised in all of our meetings. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert raised the issue of tightening sanctions. I think we need to be more aggressive on divestiture of companies who are doing business in Iran and doing business in the United States," said Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas). Brownback, who dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination and endorsed McCain, added that he would continue to press for tightening divestment from Iran. "The Democrats are a majority in both houses of Congress. On this point there is absolutely no disagreement. Both parties strongly support coercive sanctions. Divestment, both parties support as well," said Rep. Jane Hartman (D-California). During their last visit to Israel eight months ago, Hartman and Kyl were persuaded to advance legislation to force companies to divest from Iran. "It was during meetings with Israeli officials that the senators and representatives became convinced of the importance of divestment," said MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud), who heads the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense subcommittee that meets with the Bicameral Delegation. "These meetings between us are a five-year tradition that have proven their importance and usefulness." Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who met with the delegation on Monday afternoon, stressed the importance of the "special relationship" between Israel and the United States. "No matter who wins in the upcoming presidential election, the special relationship between America and Israel must continue," said Olmert. During a closed meeting with the congressmen, Olmert discussed negotiations with the Palestinians. The delegation was unwilling to reveal what the prime minister said during that meeting, but stressed that they were supportive of the peace process. "We will support what is done... Personally I don't think that Jerusalem should be on the table. I don't think it is a negotiable item," said Brownback. Kyl added that other than discussions on Iran and the peace process, "no subject has occupied our time more than discussions over Egypt." "Both the US and Israel have reasons to work with Egypt. But leaders in both countries have made the point that Egypt should be doing more to stop the [transfer of] weapons to the Gaza Strip," said Kyl. "We need to work with Egypt to find ways to accomplish that." Brownback took a stronger line, saying that US support of Egypt should be done with some "conditionality." "I would like to see them be much more aggressive to stop military equipment getting to Gaza. It is a big problem for Israel, and Egypt could be doing a lot more to solve it," said Brownback. Also Monday, the Foreign Ministry instructed Israel's mission to the United Nations to submit a letter of protest to the president of the Security Council and request that he issue a statement condemning Iran over the reported remarks of Revolutionary Guards Commander Gen. Muhammad Ali Jafari. Jafari was quoted as saying: "I am convinced that Hizbullah's might is increasing with every passing day and that in the near future, we will witness the disappearance of this cancerous growth called Israel." The Israeli letter will note that Jafari's remarks convey an expectation of the destruction of the State of Israel and that it is an anti-Jewish, anti-Semitic and racist statement of the worst kind, the Foreign Ministry said.