EU President: Europe Blind to Scale of Iran Threat

Mirek Topolanek strongly critical of officials calling for freeze on upgrade of ties between Europe, Israel.

The European Union "underestimates the Iranian threat," according to Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the Union.

At the conclusion of his visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Topolanek was strongly critical of European officials who are calling for a freeze on the upgrading of ties between the EU and Israel.

In an interview with Haaretz, the outgoing Czech prime minister said that the "peace process should not be linked to the relations between the EU and Israel." At the same time, Topolanek proposed that Israel should end the razing of homes in East Jerusalem as a gesture of good will to the Palestinians.

Toplanek is considered one of Israel's closest allies in Europe. He is also is the first prime minister to have visited Israel during Benjamin Netanyahu assume the post of premier last month.

In spite of his criticism of Israel on issues like settlements in the West Bank, on most other issues Topolanek backs Israel's policies.

The question of Iran was a subject on which Topolanek and his Israeli interlocutors, Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, found they had a common language.

"The rhetoric of the Israeli officials is understandable" on the issue of Iran, Topolanek said, making reference to the speeches of Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres during Holocaust Memorial Day last week.

"I believe that at this very moment, there is no imminent threat of a war between Israel and Iran," the Czech continued. "But the fact that Iran is a threat whose danger can be magnified if the country will have a nuclear weapon - that is something the entire world knows about. The fact that the EU is somewhat underestimating this threat is also true. Nevertheless all of us are looking at this twin track approach toward Iran. I think that there is still time for hard power against Iran, but only after all soft- power means have been already used. At this moment I see an Israeli attack against Iran as very improbable."

Topolanek said he is in agreement with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who asserts that the international community's handling of Iran depends on Israel's steps with the Palestinians.

"The Iranian issue is uniting the whole region, including the Arab countries. For the first time Israel and the Arab countries feel that they are facing the same threats. And under the pressure of this threat a solution must be found," the Czech prime minister said.

The criticism of the Czech leader centers mostly on the issue of settlements and the razing of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.

"Although I understand the right of every country to defend its territory, certainly against rocket attacks, and one might find justication for the Gaza operation, it is more difficult for me to understand the further settlements spreading and the cases of evictions [in East Jerusalem]." Topolanek said. "I would like to respond that I would really like to wait and assess the situation once the policy of the new Israeli government is presented by Prime Minister Netanyahu. But it will be difficult, on the one hand, to promote the idea of two states for two peoples and on the other hand continue the settlements.

"It is evident that the Palestinians must see a light at the end of the tunnel. They must show some kind of successes to rally people behind them. Netanyahu created positive expectations. We have a very short period of time, maybe three months, durign which something must happen. This is why any restrictions on the side of the EU make no sense in my opinion.

"But I expect some sort of gestures from the Israeli side. If I am talking about a symbolic gesture, Sheikh Jarrah could be an example. There is no legal solution to this problem. There are nine buildings and ten legal opinions. I think that first of all we need to remove the lawyers from the table, and acknowledge that there is room for a gesture here."

One of the issues currently being discussed in Europe is the freezing of a process of closer ties with Israel. "I don't think that EU-Israel relations are in danger or that they are being jeopardized on the contrary I think that the peace process can not and should not be linked to relations between the EU and Israel. Although of course there are some correlations, they should not be linked."

The Czech prime minister was strongly critical of Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU commissioner for external affairs, who has threatened a freeze to the upgrading of ties. Ferrerro-Waldner published an opinion piece on the subject in Haaretz English Edition just over a week ago ("The offer on the table, April 17).

Topolanek: "In this sense I consider the statement by Benita Ferero-Waldner about it, to be really hasty and at this given moment I would not really attribute to it more weight than just a statement by a commissioner. The action plan continuation is a political decision that is to be made by the European Council, and I am still the president of the European Council and I should know something about it."