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Canberra Urged to Get Tough on Iran

AUSTRALIA is being urged to support Israel by taking a tougher stand on Iran by joining the US in imposing sanctions on the Islamic state over its nuclear program and sponsorship of terrorism.

This message was delivered by politicians, government officials and academics when The Australian visited Israel in the wake of Yasser Arafat's death.

Many Israelis are concerned that Iran's support for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and Syria and its infiltration of Palestinian groups such as Hamas will derail any peace effort with the Palestinians.

Few have any faith in Iran abandoning its nuclear ambitions, despite Tehran agreeing to a European-sponsored initiative to suspend uranium enrichment.

The range of the missile Iran is now testing, the Shihab-3, is 1300km, putting Israel well within range.

Director of the Bar Ilan University's program on conflict management and negotiation, Gerald Steinberg, said Israel viewed a nuclear Iran as "particularly dangerous".

"The regime is dedicated to wiping Israel off the map and that's the sort of message that's printed on the side of their missiles," he said.

"If Iran develops nuclear weapons it would quite simply create a radical Islamic superpower in the heart of the Middle East, triggering a regional arms race."

Professor Steinberg said Australia had been supportive of Israel through its backing for International Atomic Energy Agency disarmament efforts and by applying diplomatic pressure on Iran over its sponsorship of terrorism.

But he suggested Australia should consider joining the US in imposing economic sanctions on Iran. Washington is also pushing the UN to impose sanctions, but has faced strong opposition from Russia and China.

Knesset member and Labour opposition whip Yitzhak Herzog told The Australian Iran was the "most pressing security threat" to Israel.

"What can Australia do? I think Australia should co-ordinate its efforts with the US and impose economic and trade sanctions on Iran," Mr Herzog said.

Australia, unlike the US, continues to have full diplomatic ties with Tehran, and Iran has been a leading buyer of Australian wheat.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Trade Minister Mark Vaile are regular visitors to Iran, and government sources suggest Australia will continue to play a role as a conduit between Washington and Tehran over the nuclear issue.

By John Kerin
The Australian

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