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Monday, March 13, 2006

J'lem mum on Straw's pledge to tackle Israel's nukes next

Israel has decided to keep quiet on British Foreign Minister Jack Straw's pledge to "tackle Israel's nukes next" during a Thursday night BBC interview.

Straw gave a lengthy television interview in Britain Thursday, following the decision to send Iran's nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions. When asked about a "double standard" regarding Iran, Straw replied: "I want a nuclear-free Middle East. It's the policy of her majesty's government. We've been working to achieve that. We have ensured over the last few years that two of the four countries [in the Middle East] which posed a nuclear threat, Libya and Iraq, have had their nuclear weapons removed," he said.

He then added, "If you want to see a nuclear-free Middle East, you've got to remove that threat from Iran, including the rhetorical threat to wipe Israel off the face of the map... and once you've done that, then we can get on to work at, in respect of Israel."

Straw's remarks were analyzed carefully in Jerusalem, but it was decided not to make an issue of them because Straw made clear that Britain remained "on board" on the Iranian nuclear issue.

"That is the most important thing," one government official said, saying that Israel did not want to deflect from the Iranian issue by drawing attention to itself and creating a diplomatic issue over Straw's comments.

"This isn't the time to discuss this," he said. Besides, he added, Israel has also made it clear that it was in favor of a nuclear-free Middle East, but that discussions about this could only take place in the distant future, after Israel has concluded peace agreements with all the countries in the region.

That the Iranian nuclear issue would ultimately spotlight Israel was not something that has been unexpected, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said that US President George Bush's famous letter of April 2004 included a line pledging US commitment to Israel's deterrence capacity.

That letter reads, "The United States reiterates its steadfast commitment to Israel's security, including secure, defensible borders, and to preserve and strengthen Israel's capability to deter and defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats."

Sharon interpreted this as a US promise to back Israel when there were attempts - which he believed would follow the international community's handling of the Iranian nuclear issue - to dismantle what he referred to as "Israel's deterrence ability."

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