PM Charges Mossad With Thwarting Iran's Nuclear Plans

At special meeting on nuclear threat posed by Tehran, Sharon says he will personally oversee efforts to scuttle the Iranian program.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon held a special meeting on the Iranian nuclear threat on Sunday, deciding that he would personally oversee Israel's efforts to scuttle Iran's plans to produce nuclear weapons.

Sharon also decided that the Foreign Ministry will concentrate diplomatic efforts to convince world leaders to take steps against the Iranian threat.

The Mossad will be responsible for all other issues connected to scuttling the plans.

The discussion on Iran had been postponed a number of times. Sunday's meeting was attended by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and senior officials from the Israel Defense Forces, the Mossad and the National Security Council.

Last week, Mossad chief Meir Dagan told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the Iranian nuclear potential is an existential threat to the State of Israel.

"We believe the Iranians will continue developing nuclear military projects and in their hands such weapons pose, for the first time, an existential threat to Israel," he said.

Dagan said the reactor in Bushehr is large, has a 100-megawatt capacity and is scheduled to be operative by the end of 2004 or the beginning of 2005.

The Iranians, he said, are also about to complete a uranium-enriching plant in Kashan. If no special technological problems arise, this plant may reach a production potential of 10 nuclear bombs, he said.

Dagan said that Iran's nuclear activity was exposed by exiled Iranian sources in the United States.

Dagan said the Iranians invested dozens of billions of dollars in the nuclear project, which "has no economic justification, unless they intend to arm themselves with nuclear arms."

During a trip to Vienna last week, Shalom met with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Chairman, Mohammed El-Baradei. The meeting was held in advance of an IAEA session relating to Iran's nuclear program.

Shalom told the IAEA chairman that nuclear weapons in Iran's possession would pose a threat not just to Israel, but to the world at large. Shalom asked El-Baradei whether he believes Tehran has relinquished ambitions of attaining nuclear weapons.

The IAEA chairman replied it has not been easy for the Iranians to do what they have already done (disclosing their nuclear efforts, and consenting to inspectors). The international community, El-Baradei added, expected Tehran to carry out some additional steps.

"I know you [Israelis] are skeptical, and I too am skeptical," said the IAEA chairman. He added that Iranians are unlikely to agree conclusively to "cessation" of their nuclear activity until they are sure they will receive favorable trade arrangements or technology transfers in return.

The IAEA chairman did not bring up Israel's nuclear program in the discussion. Instead, he spoke generally about the importance of regional arrangements.