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Israel Warns of Nuke Development in Iran and Syria

Israel is warning of attempts by Syria and Iran to develop nuclear capability along with upgraded missile systems. Although Iran and Syria have rejected the allegations, Israel says the international community must deal with what could turn into a regional and global threat.

Israel has stepped up its warnings in recent weeks of the potential dangers posed by Iran and Syria. In particular, Israeli officials warn that Iran could soon develop nuclear weapons and they object to what they say were Syrian attempts to purchase upgraded missiles from Russia.

Earlier this week, the chief of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency told a parliamentary committee that by the end of 2005 Iran will have the technology needed to develop nuclear weapons within several years after that.

The head of Israel's parliamentary security and foreign affairs committee, Yuval Steinitz told VOA, the warnings are urgent.

"The Iranian very ambitious nuclear program is combined with a very ambitious ballistic missile program and the real aim of this is not becoming a regional nuclear power, but a global nuclear superpower and if this will happen a dark curtain will cover the Middle East and Europe and the rest of the world," he said.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency (IAEA) has been looking into Iran's nuclear program, but has yet to find clear evidence that Tehran intends to make nuclear weapons.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman rejected the Israeli allegations and accused Israel of simply trying to divert attention from its own nuclear program.

Israel is widely believed to have nuclear weapons, but will neither confirm nor deny their existence and has not signed on to the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Israeli officials have also recently raised alarm bells about what they say were plans by Syria to purchase upgraded weapons from Russia, in particular the SA-18 Igla shoulder-fired surface to air missile.

The Israeli warning came prior to a visit to Moscow this week by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In Moscow, President Assad denied that the issue was under discussion, but also defended his country's right to buy what he called "defensive" weapons.

Israeli security analyst, Shlomo Brum of Tel Aviv's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies says the SA-18 missile is not really new. He says he inspected one of them 15 years ago.

"When I was Israeli Defense Attache in South Africa and the South Africans had captured some of these missiles in Angola,” he said. “We know it for the last 15 years and so I presume we are quite capable of developing countermeasures against these missiles.

Shlomo Brum says, however, such missiles in the hands of Syria or Syrian-supported terrorist groups such as Hizbollah would present a challenge though it would not likely change the balance of military power between Syria and Israel.

But, Yuval Steinitz says there is information that Syria is also attempting to acquire nuclear capability, making the threat more complex.

"This is a terrorist-supporting country and if such a country will also get new ballistic missiles from Moscow or anti-aircraft missiles and if such a country will be able to acquire nuclear capability it will be disastrous for the Middle East and the entire world," he added.

Mr. Steinitz says both Syria and Iran present a global threat and therefore the international community must act. He says western governments should apply continuous diplomatic pressure, invoke sanctions and, if need be, use force to deal with these dangers.

The United States already lists Syria and Iran as state sponsors of terrorism and has imposed sanctions. Washington also says Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons and has not ruled out the use of force to prevent that from happening. The United States also raised concerns about any Syrian attempts to purchase new weapons.