Beilin urges shift on Iran
By Danna Harman
JERUSALEM (April 5) - Justice Minister Yossi Beilin yesterday became
the first high-level government official to publicly advocate a change
in attitude towards Iran.
Speaking at Haifa University, Beilin said that under President Mohammad
Khatami, Iran has become "more nuanced" than in the past, and
that Israel should take its cue from the US and Europe, which have both
launched new initiatives aimed at moving closer to Teheran.
"The US and Europe find there to be a change in Iran," Beilin
said. "Under Khatami, and after the elections to the parliament, Iran
is more nuanced than the Iran we were used to in the past. Due to the positive
changes evidenced in Iran, there is a need to change our approach towards
"An opportunity for a new opening is at hand," added Beilin
He stressed, however, that Israel should continue monitoring Iran's
policies regarding nonconventional weapons development, support of terror,
and Iranian Jewry, as well as its attitude towards the peace process.
Although Beilin was not speaking for Prime Minister Ehud Barak in this
case, his words are significant, and indicative of a trend.
Barak, unlike his predecessor Binyamin Netanyahu, has never demonized
or attacked Iran and has gone easy on Russia even as it continues to sell
technological know-how to Teheran.
Foreign Minister David Levy has said in recent private conversations
that the US initiatives towards Iran announced last month by US Secretary
of State Madeline Albright were "moves in the right direction."
While officially Israel is not planning to change any of its policies
towards Iran, an increasing number of senior officials note that with the
redeployment from southern Lebanon looming and no peace deal with Syria
in sight, moving closer to Iran - a known backer of Hizbullah - is both
a logical and necessary step.
One official said that the US is pushing both Israel and Egypt to move
closer to Iran - both to give support to reformist forces there and possibly
to help thwart aid to Hizbullah.
Egypt recently announced that it would be signing several financial
deals with Iran.
"We had good and special relations with Iran until 1979, and we
still have mutual regional interests. There is no clash between the peoples
of our countries, nor between our traditions. The problems began under
Khomeini, who used Israel as glue to try and create social cohesion within
his own country," said Beilin, who concluded his speech by saying,
"I do not want to look at Iran with the same glasses that I was using
20 years ago."
Barak spokesman Gadi Baltiansky said in response to Beilin's comments
that "Israel is closely watching the goings-on in Iran, including
the growing strength of the moderate forces there.
"However, as long as Iran continues to encourage terror, and as
long as it continues arming itself with nuclear and non-conventional weapons,
there is no room for a change of policy on our part."