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. Israel on offensive against IAEA over Iran
JERUSALEM, Nov 6 (AFP) Nov 06, 2007
Campaigning for tougher sanctions on Iran, Israel went on the offensive Tuesday against the UN nuclear watchdog, accusing its chief Mohammed ElBaradei of playing into Tehran's hands over its atomic drive.

The campaign comes with the IAEA poised to publish a new report on Iran's nuclear ambitions to serve as a key part of further discussions at the United Nations on whether to impose a third round of sanctions on Tehran.

"Unfortunately there are foreign officials playing the Iranians' game by contributing to the Iranian strategy of foot-dragging," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev told AFP.

"From this point of view the International (Atomic Energy) Agency and its leadership are guilty," Regev added.

"One could ask whether the agency agreed to fulfil the role the Iranians want it to play, to allow Tehran to implement its strategy," he said.

Permanent members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany, are backing a third UN Security Council resolution and vote on Iran, unless upcoming IAEA and EU reports show "a positive outcome".

But China and Russia, which could in theory veto further sanctions, have yet to publicly call for more punishment against the Islamic republic.

"The ayatollahs hope the pace of diplomatic discussions under way is as slow as possible so they (the Iranians) can continue with their nuclear armamemts programme at a faster pace," said Regev.

Israel and its chief ally the United States charge that Tehran is using its civilian nuclear programme as a cover to develop atomic weapons -- claims that Tehran flatly denies.

On Monday, the director general of Israel's foreign ministry, Aharon Abramovitz, also attacked the IAEA.

"Instead of being an element contributing to efforts being made by the international community, the agency is working to make them fail," he said in a speech in Jerusalem.

Israel's most popular newspaper Yediot Aharonot said the government had decided to criticise ElBaradei directly after officials concluded "that he now constitutes the main obstacle in stepping up sanctions".

Israel, which belongs to the IAEA but has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is widely considered to be the Middle East's sole -- if undeclared -- nuclear-armed nation.

It considers Iran its chief enemy after repeated statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the Jewish state should be wiped off the map.

Last month, on a tour of UN Security Council members to push for tougher sanctions on Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also criticised the IAEA chief.

"If ElBaradei thinks that an Iranian bomb in three years time does not bother him, it certainly worries me, even extremely," Olmert said in France. "It would be better if ElBaradei made an effort to prevent them from obtaining a bomb."

ElBaradei said in an interview with France's Le Monde newspaper that Iran would need "between three and eight years" to develop a nuclear bomb and that there were was no immediate threat.

"I want to get people away from the idea that Iran represents a clear and present danger and that we're now facing the decision whether to bombard Iran or let them have the bomb. We're not in that situation at all," he said.

Gerald Steinberg, political science professor at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv, suggested that ElBaradei could either be anti-American or trying to avoid an attack on Iran at any price.

"What is certainly the case is that there is an increasingly flagrant contradiction between IAEA technical reports clearly showing Iran's intentions to build nuclear weapons and the mollifying conclusions of ElBaradei," he said.

In 1981, Israel bombed a nuclear reactor in Iraq, which under the rule of now executed dictator Saddam Hussein was its biggest enemy. The raid was heavily criticised by the United States and UN Security Council.

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