Iraqi War Could Have Deterrent Effect On Iran, Israeli Minister Says

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - If the U.S. leads a coalition against Iraq and wins, the victory could have a deterrent effect on Iran, nudging it back into the family of nations, an Israeli minister said.

President Bush branded Iran as part of a three-nation "axis of evil" because of its push to develop nuclear weapons and because it backs terrorist organizations. Tehran openly advocates the destruction of the State of Israel and many experts say that it is Iran - not Iraq - that poses the greatest threat to regional stability.

Nevertheless, the Israeli government minister in charge of strategic affairs, Dan Meridor, said he would not recommend taking military action against Iran, after the expected offensive against Iraq.

"Iran because of its policies [is the cause of] great hidden instability in this area," Meridor told reporters and diplomats at a briefing in Jerusalem this week.

"They are involved in terror up to their neck...and they are developing nuclear weapons," Meridor said.

Iran backs the militant Hizballah group in southern Lebanon, believed to have been responsible for the bombing of the U.S. Embassy and Marine Corps compound and the French army compound in Beirut in 1983. The attacks killed more than 300 American and French servicemen.

Iran also has been accused by Israel of backing the Palestinian uprising. In January 2002, Israel intercepted a ship allegedly smuggling tons of Iranian weapons and ammunition to the Palestinians.

If there is a war against Iraq and Iraq is defeated, Iran will be the dominant power in the region, Meridor said. Nevertheless, he does not recommend war.

"Do I say one has to go to war against Iran? I don't say that," Meridor said.

"I think that there are other means to see to it that Iran does not continue to walk or to run on the track they are on now - that is to say an illegitimate [goal] to destroy another nation or do things - developing mass destruction weapons, missiles and nuclear bombs and [being] involved in terror...

"Maybe the war in Iraq, if it happens, if there is a victory...the lesson I hope will be learned and we don't need to use [war]," he added.

Although Meridor admitted that Iran is "still a problem," he said that the country is trying to be readmitted to the family of nations and suggested that the international community could use that as "leverage" to guide Iran back into the right path.

Europe, for example, could demand that Iran recognize Israel's legitimate existence, even if it didn't agree on its borders. Russia could refuse to help Iran develop its nuclear program.

"Iran is developing its nuclear project. We've spoken to the Americans several times; we've spoken to the Russians...I hope there is some result there," he said.

"There are things you can do without going to war in order to streamline them back into the normal behavior of a country. This relates to a country like Iran. I don't think you should go to war against a country like Iran," he added.

Israel said last week that it was concerned about a new deal between Tehran and Moscow, whereby Russia pledged to step up construction of an $800 million nuclear reactor in Iran and to consider building a second reactor.

Both Moscow and Tehran insist that the reactor is being built for civilian purposes, but Israel and the U.S. believe the acquisition of a reactor will put Iran much closer to developing nuclear weapons.

Israel and Iran enjoyed diplomatic relations prior to the 1979 Islamic revolution. Iran has the largest Jewish community in the region outside of Israel.

Meridor stressed that Israel is ready to have diplomatic relations with Iran tomorrow if Iran was willing.