'Grave Threat' From Nuke-Seeking Iran Main Issue for Israel at U.N.

By Julie Stahl | September 22, 2008 | 2:05 PM EDT

As the United Nations General Assembly gets under way in New York, Iran is the “most crucial” issue for Israel, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. 

“[Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] has threatened to wipe Israel off the map, said Palmor. “Still we see how Ahmadinejad is greeted by the U.N. and invited by organizations in the U.S. to be their guests.”

Major issues like the financial meltdown on Wall Street and the upcoming U.S. presidential elections have drawn attention away from Iran this year, despite fresh threats from Ahmadinejad.

Israel and the U.S. are pushing for a fourth round of U.N. Security Council resolutions. The first three rounds have not deterred Iran from enriching uranium, a process that can be used to produce fuel for an atomic bomb.

Speaking at a military parade on Sunday, Ahmadinejad said Iran would “break the hand” of anyone who committed “even a tiny offense against Iran’s legitimate interests, borders and sacred land.” 

According to the Associated Press, Iran uses the phrase “legitimate interests” to refer to its nuclear program.

A banner on a military truck that was taking part in the parade said, “Israel should be eliminated from the universe” in both English and Farsi.

Much of the international community believes that Iran is using its civilian nuclear program to conceal its development of nuclear weapons – a charge that Iran denies.

Palmor said it was understandable that Americans were caught up with their own concerns.

“It’s only natural that Americans care more about the next president than the current president of Iran,” Palmor told CNSNews.com.

Still, Israel is aiming to alert the people who deal with foreign affairs and international relations that Iran poses a grave threat to the region and the world, he said.

Former Israeli Ambassador to Washington Zalman Shoval said the administration’s attention understandably has shifted to economic troubles.

That has diverted attention away from Afghanistan and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but Shoval said he was not sure that was true concerning Iran.

Both Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama addressed the issue of the Iranian nuclear threat in separate interviews on CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday.

Obama said that a nuclear-armed Iran was “unacceptable” and that is why he would not “take any options off the table, including military, to prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

Asked about the idea of a preemptive war, McCain said that he would consider a preemptive strike against a country that posed a threat to the U.S.

“Suppose that the Iranians had nuclear weapons. And you had a whole lot of other information about Iranian intentions and you could make the case to the American people and to the world, I think it’s obvious that we would have to prevent what we’re absolutely certain is a direct threat to the lives of the American people,” McCain said.

Shoval suggested that perhaps there was more going on behind the scenes and that the current administration might take some kind of action.

Israeli analyst Calev Ben-David wrote that the Iranian issue has become “just another polarizing issue in the U.S. presidential campaign.”

But he noted that the Democrats and Republicans can still work together when they feel there is a “genuine pressing crisis at hand” such as the Wall Street meltdown.

Meanwhile, a senior military intelligence officer, Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz, told Israeli parliamentarians on Sunday that Iran has produced up to half the enriched uranium necessary to build an atomic bomb. The “nuclear point-of-no-return is fast approaching,” he said.

Baidatz also said that international efforts to stop Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons are not stopping Tehran and that Iran was growing confident that the international community “is not strong enough to stop them.”

Former Israeli army chief of staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should be dealt with by the international community just as former German dictator Adolf Hitler had been dealt with.

Ya’alon said in a radio interview that while Iran could still be stopped by “diplomatic and economic means,” that the “writing is on the wall” regarding a military solution.