Lieberman Bolsters ElBaradei

The attacks on ElBaradei by ministers and officials do no good to Israel's national interest.

Somebody in Israel is beginning to grow restive over Iran's nuclear program, and that is an ominous sign. The previous prime minister, Ariel Sharon, decided that Israel should keep a low profile on the matter and let the international community handle the job, aimed at preventing Tehran from attaining an atom bomb. There was logic to his decision. It is tough to enlist the international community for a campaign to disarm a country of its nuclear program when Israel is spearheading it, if only for the simple reason that the world considers Israel itself a nuclear power.

Sharon instructed ministers and government officials who dealt with this sensitive issue to keep their mouths shut. His approach has proved itself true; as the Hebrew saying goes, "The work of the righteous is done by others."

The statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against Israel's right to exist, and Israel's silence, have made it easier for the United States and European Union in their efforts to build a broad international consensus. Despite the objection of Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the agency decided to refer the Iranian matter to the United Nations Security Council.

At the Security Council there was a rare agreement among all five permanent members, including China and Russia, to impose two rounds of sanctions on Iran for insisting on enriching uranium. The sanctions imposed are not particularly effective, but they are preferable to doing nothing.

On the international agenda today are a draft proposal by the U.S. and EU to impose a third and harsher round of sanctions. Russia and China, which oppose this proposal, are awaiting the new report from ElBaradei, due to be made public today. If the report, despite the convoluted phrasing and evasive language that typify the writing of ElBaradei and his organization, hints that Iran is not cooperating with the IAEA and is not answering the questions that were directed to it concerning the history of its nuclear program, it will be easier to persuade Russia and China to join in the sanctions.

It is therefore unfortunate that Sharon's policy of silence is being violated now, at this sensitive juncture. It began with criticism of ElBaradei by the Foreign Ministry's director general, Aharon Abramovitch, and continued with tirades calling for his resignation by ministers Avigdor Lieberman and Shaul Mofaz. These statements were not coordinated with Israel's Atomic Energy Commission, which oversees relations with the IAEA.

One may be furious with ElBaradei's conduct; for years he has treated Iran gently, and now is not making things difficult for it with his questions, thereby helping Iran to evade clear answers. ElBaradei, an Egyptian by origin, is not known for his love of Israel. To Israel's displeasure, he repeatedly tried to initiate a move for nuclear disarmament in the Middle East, which means only one thing: Israel gives up its weapons. His conduct toward Iran has long annoyed the U.S. as well, which sought to prevent his election to the post but eventually gave in. The EU is not satisfied with him either.

In the past, Israel would convey its messages to ElBaradei via representatives of the IAEC or through other countries' diplomatic channels. According to a new book coming out soon, Israeli intelligence also knew how to get important information to the IAEA and global media to expose Iran's nuclear program.

The attacks on ElBaradei by ministers and officials do no good to Israel's national interest. Neither Mofaz nor Lieberman appointed the director general of the IAEA, and their words have no influence over him, nor over the UN that supervises him. Perhaps such talk raises the ratings of a few politicians in Israel, but it might act as a boomerang. Violating the policies of maintaining silence and a low profile only bolsters ElBaradei and gives him the support of countries whose role could prove decisive if new sanctions are imposed on Iran.

Israel would do better to return to the policy Sharon formulated, or it will find itself moving further away from its supreme strategic goal: preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.