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US Lawmakers: Syria, Iran Are Threats to Israel's Security - 2003-02-25

U.S. lawmakers who have just returned from a visit to Israel are calling for a sharper focus on the role of Syria and Iran in supporting international terrorism, and potential threats of weapons of mass destruction.

The lawmakers say there is continuing concern among Israeli political leaders and the public at large about the threats posed to Israeli security by Syria and Iran.

For Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, this extends to possible military applications of Iran's nuclear program.

"Our Israeli counterparts are particularly concerned about Iran's missiles, given their long-range capabilities, and considered in conjunction with statements by officials of the Iranian regime, including its so-called President Khatami who talks about the destruction of Israel," she said.

Iran's president, Mohammad Khatami, recently reiterated his government's defense of its nuclear program, and dismissed U.S. accusations Iranian facilities could be used to make nuclear weapons.

However, Israeli leaders continued to identify Iran, along with Iraq and Libya, as being among potential nuclear weapons development and proliferation threats in the region.

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen, along with fellow Republicans Congressman Steve Chabot and William Janklow, also criticized the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) approach on Iran.

"The Israeli officials we met with share our concerns about the IAEA's lax approach toward Iran's nuclear program, and the need for more than just visits by the IAEA director, but for full inspections of Iran's recently uncovered nuclear plants, particularly those which, according to news reports and the Iranian opposition, are being used to enrich uranium for offensive purposes," Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen.

The head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, said last Saturday that Iran has a right to pursue a nuclear energy industry for peaceful purposes, saying his agency will work more closely with Iran.

On Syria, lawmakers plan to re-introduce legislation in the House, called the Syria Accountability Act. The bill, which was not passed last year by Congress, calls, among other things, for an end to Syrian support of terrorism.

Congressman William Janklow said, "There was a strong feeling expressed to us that Syria has been helpful in dealing with al-Qaida, with respect to the United States and other countries. They have not been as helpful with respect to Hezbollah and some of the other organizations."

Mr. Janklow and the other lawmakers say Israelis are urging the United States not to lose sight of the threats to Israel's security from Iran, Syria and what they call other terrorist-sponsoring states, after a possible U.S.-led military strike against Iraq.