Israel: Iran Is Now Danger No. 1 ; US, Britain, France, and Germany Threatened Iran on Monday with Sanctions over Its Nuclear Program

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Even as the US and European nations press Iran harder to comply with international law on its nuclear program, Israel is moving ahead with its own program to check its powerful Middle Eastern neighbor.

Israel is working on a wide range of measures to undermine Iran's nuclear program, with senior leaders hinting that Israel may take preemptive action if that is deemed necessary. Analysts here suggest that action may include a strike similar to Israel's 1981 attack on Iraq's Osirak reactor.

The Israeli initiative includes political, military, and intelligence wings of government and dovetails with US efforts to contain Iran within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The effort reflects the widespread assessment here that Iran poses a greater threat than Iraq has for the past decade and is gaining nuclear expertise more quickly than the US estimates.

"Iran has a clandestine [nuclear] program that is very ambitious," says Uzi Arad, director of the Institute of Policy and Strategy in Herzilya. "That country thinks big and fast and ... poses a threat that is very real. Should it acquire nuclear weapons or even come close, it would completely alter the Middle East. It's a very ominous threat."

Analysts here argue that the prospect of a nuclear Iran would:

* Threaten Israeli, US, and European security.

** Harden Arab positions in any future peace negotiations.

* Increase militancy and embolden hard-liners.

* Destabilize the Gulf area.

* And encourage other countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Libya, to follow suit.

History of Iranian concealment

The US, Britain, France, and Germany say that Iran has been concealing nuclear research for the past 18 years in pursuit of nuclear weapons, despite signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970.

On Monday, the four nations agreed on a strongly worded IAEA resolution promoted by the US that threatens the possibility of UN sanctions should Iran continue to violate its agreements.

The US charges that Iran is also developing chemical and biological weapons, though the country is party to conventions curbing them. Furthermore, both the US and Israel say that Iran is trying to extend the range of its missiles, which could be used to develop such weapons.

Already, the 810-mile reach of Iran's Shahab-3 missile puts Israel and US forces in the region in striking range. The US charges that Iran will probably try to develop missiles capable of hitting Western Europe or the US itself.

Iran has admitted to concealing aspects of its atomic energy program, but says it is pursuing alternate energy sources, a claim the State Department dismissed as "simply not credible."

In testimony to the US-Israeli Joint Parliamentary Committee in September, State Department official Paula DeSutter said, "The impact of a nuclear-armed Iran in an already volatile region cannot be underestimated. As President Bush had made clear, that cannot be allowed to happen."

Israeli officials have echoed that declaration. In November, Israeli media reported that Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, on a trip to Washington, told US officials that "under no circumstances would Israel be able to abide by nuclear weapons in Iranian possession."

'Existential threat' to Israel? …