New York Sun: As Senator Obama utters some of his toughest comments on Iran to date while visiting Israel, saying all options must be on the table in addition to "tough diplomacy," Tehran is preparing to fend off air attacks against its facilities by acquiring antiair missiles from Russia.
The New York Sun
Democrat Praises Peres, Visits With Abbas Beneath Portrait of Yasser Arafat
By BENNY AVNI, Staff Reporter of the Sun
As Senator Obama utters some of his toughest comments on Iran to date while visiting Israel, saying all options must be on the table in addition to "tough diplomacy," Tehran is preparing to fend off air attacks against its facilities by acquiring antiair missiles from Russia.
Mr. Obama, who met Jerusalem's top officials and Palestinian Arab leaders yesterday, said a nuclear Iran poses a threat to Israel, the region, and American interests. According to several participants in meetings in Israel, where the Iranian issue topped his agenda, the Democratic presidential nominee did not exclude a military option, but he clearly favored other means.
Apparently fearing Israel would act even before the end of the Bush administration, Iran is boosting its air defenses with advanced Russian-made antiaircraft systems. A first delivery of S-300 missile batteries is expected as soon as early September, an unidentified Israeli source told Reuters yesterday. The missiles can track 100 targets at once and fire on planes 75 miles away.
Flanked by aides and reporters, the Illinois senator flew by helicopter to Sderot, where fewer rockets have fallen since a recent "period of calm" was reached between Israel and the Iranian-backed Hamas. Conducting a press conference there, Mr. Obama said he would offer "a series of big sticks and big carrots to the Iranian regime to stand down on nuclear weapons." A nuclear Iran "would be a game-changing situation not just in the Mideast but around the world," he said, adding he would take no option "off the table."
"He certainly did not say bombers should fly to Iran tomorrow morning, but he said several times that all options are there and that, for diplomacy to work, it must be clear for the Iranians that the military option exists," said a former Israeli ambassador to America, Zalman Shoval, who attended a meeting between Mr. Obama and the leader of Israeli's Likud Party, Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Iranians "have dispersed their nuclear capabilities in a way that you're not going to see smooth, surgical strikes solving the problem entirely the way that Israel was able to deal with Iraq's nuclear threat," Mr. Obama told ABC News in an interview. "And so what we have to do is avoid that choice by applying the tough diplomacy that makes the calculus for the Iranians different."
Israel expects Iran to obtain nuclear capabilities by 2009, or 2010 at the latest, Prime Minister Olmert told Mr. Obama, who dined at the prime minister's residence last night, adding that the current measures against Tehran are not enough to stop it.
As "someone who was born and spent his childhood in Iran, I know the Iranian people very well," Israel's transportation minister, Shaul Mofaz — who is running against Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to replace Mr. Olmert as leader of the Kadima Party — wrote in an "open letter" to Mr. Obama in the Jerusalem Post. "I can tell you that the only language that can be used in this case is the language of strength," Mr. Mofaz wrote.
As the Hashemite king of Jordan, Abdullah, tried to do a day earlier, President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad tried to convince Mr. Obama to pay more attention to Palestinian Arab-Israeli negotiations than to Iran's threat. "If he wins the election in the United States, he will be a full and positive partner in the peace process and will not lose a single moment in pursuing it," negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP after Mr. Obama's hour-long meeting in Ramallah.
According to reporters who followed Mr. Obama to Ramallah, a picture of Yasser Arafat was displayed between him and Mr. Abbas during the meeting at the Muqata complex. One photo of the meeting shows Mr. Arafat's smiling visage overlooking the two from a framed position on a nearby wall. Mr. Obama did avoid visiting the nearby mausoleum where Arafat is buried, and the Democratic presidential candidate took no questions from reporters in Ramallah.
At Sderot, near the Gaza border, Mr. Obama he would not negotiate with Hamas, which has attacked the town with mortars almost daily. "It is very hard to negotiate with a group that is not representative of a nation-state, does not recognize your right to exist, has consistently used terror as a weapon and is deeply influenced by other countries," he said.
President Peres highlighted economic solutions to the dispute with the Palestinian Arabs. American investors "can open doors that are shut to America's diplomats and its military," Mr. Peres said, according to his strategic adviser Yoram Dori. Mr. Obama "treated Peres like a student treats his teacher," Mr. Dori said.
"For most of Israel's 60 years, you have been deeply involved in this miracle that has blossomed, and we are extremely grateful, not just as Americans but as world citizens, to your outstanding service to your country and the insight that you have shared with us," Mr. Obama said alongside Mr. Peres.