BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Senior Israeli officials are touring Europe this week to raise the alarm about Iran’s accelerating nuclear programme and urge EU governments to take tougher sanctions without waiting for the United Nations.
“We are concerned that people in Europe are not aware of the Iranian threat. There is little discussion about it,” one of the officials told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
While European Union policymakers are aware of the strategic implications if Iran achieves a nuclear capability, the official said the European public and media seemed largely oblivious.
Israel, itself widely assumed to have nuclear weapons, argues that a nuclear Iran would make the Middle East and the world more dangerous and unpredictable because of the nature of the Islamic Republic’s leaders and their support for militant groups in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Iraq.
The Israelis, visiting Brussels, Berlin, Vienna and Rome on this trip, are carrying a list of suggested political and commercial measures they want the Europeans to take to increase pressure on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment.
They range from declaring an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist organisation, as the United States has done, to ending export credits and foreign trade insurance for business with Iran, a move the EU is debating.
Other steps the Israelis say would hit key forces in Tehran include banning all dealings with Iran’s revolutionary economic foundations, which fund the clerical leadership, barring the sale of spare parts for oil refineries and prohibiting insurance for merchant vessels entering Iranian ports.
The officials also want the Europeans to end the sale of tunnelling and mining equipment, which they say Iran is using to conceal and protect its nuclear facilities deep underground.
EU officials say some of these steps are already under consideration, although several member states want a United Nations resolution for any further measures, arguing that China and Russia will otherwise simply take European business in Iran.
Tehran insists its secretive nuclear programme is for purely civilian purposes to generate electricity. The West suspects the oil-and-gas rich state is seeking a bomb, asking why else it would be racing to enrich fuel for non-existent power stations.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, are due to report this month on whether Iran is still defying U.N. demands to halt enrichment and withholding information on past activities.
Six major powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France and Germany -- have agreed to present a third Security Council sanctions resolution if the reports are negative, but they disagree on the scope of any new measures.
China is most reluctant to restrict trade with Tehran, with Russia also reticent and Germany hesitant, diplomats say.
The Israeli officials said the International Atomic Energy Agency knew where to go and whom to interview in Iran to get on the trail of efforts to develop nuclear warheads, known in the jargon as “weaponisation”, but its work programme with Iran did not cover these issues.
The IAEA, the U.N. watchdog, says it has found no evidence of a military nuclear programme in Iran but does not have full access.
The Israeli delegation’s European itinerary charts the Jewish state’s main concerns about foot-dragging. While France and Britain are pressing for tougher EU sanctions, Germany says a U.N. resolution is needed, while Italy and Austria are the strongest opponents of trade restrictions.
editing by Keith Weir