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Israel lobbies for more sanctions after U.N. report on Iran

JERUSALEM — Israel hopes that a U.N. report released last week cataloging suspect activities in Iran's nuclear program will finally force major countries to make sanctions painful enough that Iran will stop its uranium enrichment program.

But officials and experts here say that Israel must not be seen as leading that effort, and they acknowledge that when it comes to imposing sanctions, Israel has little influence anyway.

Where Israel seems to be playing a larger role is in convincing Iran and the West that if no dramatic change occurs in the next few months, Israel might be pushed into military action.

Israel has quietly mobilized diplomats to press for stricter sanctions in foreign capitals.

Their efforts have been bolstered by a flurry of speculative news reports and leaks about possible plans for an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, along with Israel's testing of a ballistic missile this month.

Publicly, Israel is keeping a low profile.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waited until Sunday, five days after the release of the International Atomic Energy Agency report, to make his first public remarks on it. "The international community must stop Iran's race to arm itself with nuclear weapons, a race that endangers the peace of the entire world," he said.

Israeli officials say that a new round of crippling sanctions against Iran could still be effective. And some experts see the threat of military action as complementary to sanctions. "Only a combination of these two conditions might make Iran reconsider," said Ephraim Kam, deputy director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

While the news reports about Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, pressing for an Israeli attack were speculative and unverifiable, the possibility that they are true adds to their persuasive power.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned last week that a military attack would be met with a "strong slap and iron fist."

Some experts, including the former Israeli intelligence chief Meir Dagan, have questioned whether military action would be effective. Iran's stated intention to move some of its nuclear activity to an underground facility, out of reach of a military attack, could mean the window for such an attack is closing.

For now, sanctions to force Iran to decide the effort is not worth the cost are the way forward, Israeli officials and experts say.

Ephraim Asculai, an Israeli nuclear expert who worked at the Israel Atomic Energy Commission for more than 40 years and also at the IAEA in Vienna, says all that stands between Iran and a nuclear weapon is a political decision by Tehran to further enrich existing stocks of uranium.

"The Iranians have already passed any deadline you can think of," he said. But such draconian sanctions, he added, "could prevent Iran from taking the political decision."

Israel lobbies for more sanctions after U.N. report on Iran 11/13/11 [Last modified: Sunday, November 13, 2011 10:04pm]
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