Israel escalated its campaign Thursday against the winner of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), by describing him as a “danger to world peace” and calling for his dismissal for what it says are his policies towards Iran’s nuclear program.
The call by Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz on public radio came as the Jewish state has been trying to undermine ElBaradei’s credibility and just days before the IAEA is due to publish a crucial new report on Iran’s nuclear program.
The international community will rely on the agency’s upcoming report to further their discussions at the U.N. on whether to impose a third set of sanctions on Iran to pressure it to abandon its nuclear program.
“The policies followed by ElBaradei endanger world peace,” Mofaz said, a day after he held talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington. “His irresponsible attitude of sticking his head in the sand over Iran’s nuclear program should lead to his impeachment.”
These were the strongest Israeli statements yet against ElBaradei, an Egyptian whom Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently said was “no fan of Zion.”
The call for ElBaradei’s dismissal came a day after the Israeli security cabinet met to raise pressure on Iran and to find ways to convince the international community to strengthen sanctions on Tehran.
Israel has been simultaneously lobbying U.N. Security Council permanent members to expand sanctions on Iran and trying to portray ElBaradei as being favorable towards Iran as it continues its uranium enrichment program, which Israel and the West in general fear could lead to building an atomic bomb.
Iran has repeatedly denied it was seeking nuclear weapons, maintaining its nuclear program is for civilian energy purposes only. But Israel fears that Tehran would not hesitate to fire its first hypothetical atomic bomb on Tel Aviv, especially after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remarks about wiping out Israel from the face of the earth.
(Editor’s note: The Iranian president’s remarks about “wiping Israel off the map” were mis-translated but continue to be widely quoted in the mainstream media.)
Ahmadinejadís said Wednesday that his country had reached a landmark target of 3,000 centrifuges for uranium enrichment, providing fuel for Israeli claims that Tehran is aiming to build the bomb. Israeli army intelligence recently reported that Iran could acquire military nuclear capabilities in 2009.
But ElBaradei told France’s Le Monde newspaper last month that Iran did not pose a “clear and present danger,” adding that Iran’s capabilities would take it three to eight years to develop a nuclear bomb if this was its intention.
Middle East experts say that Israel has escalated its pressure against ElBaradei’s dismissal to pre-empt prospects that he may try to reopen Israel’s own nuclear file at the IAEA, of which the Jewish state is a member. Israel has previously rejected calls by ElBaradei to open its nuclear facilities to international inspection.
Israel is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and it is widely believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed state, with an estimated 200 warheads.
It has kept its nuclear program a well-kept secret for years and will not give an Arab head of the international nuclear watchdog a chance to try to unveil its programs and risk its military and nuclear dominance in the region, they say.
The analysts also add that Israeli pressure on ElBaradei is timed to affect the report he is preparing on Iran’s nuclear program in a way that would encourage reluctant powerful states, such as Russia and China, to agree to expanding sanctions on Tehran.
Israel, despite its own unconfirmed nuclear power, wants to send out the message that it is under a serious Iranian nuclear threat and will do anything to avert that threat if it does not receive sufficient international support to confront Tehran.
Israel has not ruled out launching military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities, as it did with Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday that “all options remain on the table,” including military action, to prevent Iran from developing an atomic bomb.
Threatening to take unilateral military action against Iran has reportedly raised concerns in Washington, which seemed to have compensated Israel Thursday with $155 million in aid to develop Israel’s advanced anti-missile system.
Arab analysts complain that one of the Israeli options it is now using is hitting at ElBaradei and his credibility in reporting objectively on Iran’s nuclear program because he is an Arab.
While Arab states have expressed concern over Iran’s nuclear crisis with the West, they have called for international inspections of Israel’s nuclear sites and a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.
Middle East Times, November 11, 2007.