Barak looks for detente with Iran
By Aluf Benn
Ha'aretz Diplomatic Correspondent
July 7, 1999
Prime Minister Ehud Barak intends to try a new approach toward Iran,
long regarded as Israel's enemy number one: a detente.
Iran's military power and ballistic advances, together with her steadily
rising favor with the U.S., have convinced Barak that it may be time to
stop branding Iran an evil, terrorist nation and start falling in line
by recognizing it as an unchangeable factor that can be dealt with.
Barak has never considered Iran Israel's worst threat. As Chief of Staff,
he expressed the opinion that Iraq, which had proven its belligerence against
Israel in previous wars, was far more troublesome than Iran, who was on
Israel's side throughout those conflicts. He pointed out the natural common
interest between the two countries as two of the three non-Arab states
in the region.
A diplomatic source in Jerusalem said yesterday that no steps will be
taken with Iran so long as 13 Jews are still imprisoned on charges of espionage.
Military Intelligence, however, has taken a hard line against what it
sees as a threatening state, bent on developing long-range surface-to-surface
missiles that can reach Israel, and acquiring nuclear weapons. Intelligence
officials interpreted an Iranian missile attack on Iraq as an indication
that Iran viewed the use of such missiles as perfectly legitimate.
Military Intelligence further objected that Iran has maintained a hostile
attitude toward Israel and the peace process, and supports many terrorist
groups, including Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. They insist that the election
of President Mohammed Khatami has not precipitated any change in Iranian
policy toward Israel.
The attitude military Intelligence expresses is only the latest voice
in a tradition of anti-Iranian sentiment that echoes from Rabin's, Peres's
and Netanyahu's recent governments. Peres went so far as to blame Iran
for the wave of terror that struck Israel in '96, calling it an attempt
to sabotage the peace process. Netanyahu, meanwhile, pressured the U.S.
to impose sanctions against Russia for her involvement in the Iranian missile
development program, and has considered that involvement the foremost problem
in Israeli-Russian relations.
Movement over the past year in the long-frozen relations between the
U.S. and Iran has Israelis worried, however, that they could be the last
voice left damning Iran when others, including the American one, die down.
In previous discussions with U.S. officials, Israel suggested cooperation
and sharing of information on Iran in order to coordinate diplomatic efforts
toward Tehran, but the U.S. has not yet responded. Barak will raise the
issue in his upcoming visit to Washington.