Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The New York Times > International > Middle East > Israel Loses a Satellite That Was Meant to Spy on Iran

The New York Times > International > Middle East > Israel Loses a Satellite That Was Meant to Spy on Iran: "Israel Loses a Satellite That Was Meant to Spy on Iran

Published: September 7, 2004
EL AVIV, Sept. 6 - An Israeli spy satellite intended to increase the country's surveillance over Iran landed in the Mediterranean Sea on Monday after a rocket malfunction shortly after takeoff, Israeli officials said.

The satellite, Ofek-6, was meant to give Israel more early warning in case of a surprise missile attack and to provide more information on Iran's extensive missile program. In Hebrew, ofek means horizon. Israel says it intends to try again in the next few months.

Iran has already tested the Shahab-3 missile, which can reach Israel and beyond, and is working to build nuclear weapons to put on it, senior Israeli military and intelligence officials contend.

"Iran wants to become a regional superpower and then a global superpower," a senior Israeli military official said Monday in an interview. "They intend to be the latter, and this is what worries us the most."

Iran's Shiite Muslim government is a beneficiary of the American military campaigns against two of its rivals in the region since Sept. 11, 2001. One campaign overthrew the Taliban, who massacred Shiites in Afghanistan, and the other overthrew Saddam Hussein, who led Iraq into an eight-year war against Iran in the 1980's.

Israeli leaders say Iran wants nuclear weapons to bolster its flagging revolution, to provide an alternative to Egyptian secular moderation and to challenge the military supremacy of Israel and the United States in the Middle East.

"When the Iranians have enough fuel for enrichment and the technology for it, it's over," the Israeli official said. "We hope somebody will do something about it pretty soon."

But Israel, whose border with Lebanon is lined with the Iranian-financed Hezbollah militants, is reluctant to act alone, as it did in the 1980's, when it bombed the French-built Iraqi nuclear facility at Osirak.

Iran is much larger than Iraq and has many more nuclear sites. It is at least questionable whether Israel has enough fighter-bombers and refueling tankers to accomplish such a mission, let alone deal with the repercussions afterward.

"It's a big, sensitive debate," the official said.

The Israeli concerns about Iran, which date back at least 10 years, are at the center of a so-called spying scandal in Washington involving a Defense Department official, Larry Franklin, and his reputed contacts with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the lobbying group known as Aipac.

Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia, which Israel and the United States charge continues to aid Iran with nuclear technology and know-how, signed a deal with Israel on Monday to increase intelligence coordination after the terrorist attack on a school in Russia. Israel is always looking for friends, especially on the issue of terrorism, and officials were pleased to hear Mr. Lavrov call for "a united front in the battle against terrorism."

The Israeli foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, said: "Israel and Russia share interests to cooperate against terrorism. Today we discussed ways to do so." The agreement is not likely to mean much, but Russia, traditionally a supporter of the Palestinian cause, is also an important sponsor of the Middle East peace plan known as the road map.

Mr. Shalom told Israel radio: "On the nuclear issue, I think there is a certain change, in Russia and Europe, too, regarding the possibility that Iran will have nuclear weapons. This is a nightmare for most countries of the world, particularly after they discovered that Iran is trying to develop a missile with a range that will also cover southern Russia, as well as European capitals like Paris, London and Berlin."

In Ramallah on Monday, the Egyptian intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, and foreign minister, Ahmed Abdul Gheit, met with the Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, and his security chiefs to discuss plans for a possible Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip. Egypt has been trying to help the Palestinians prepare for such a possibility.

The Egyptians said they would take responsibility for continuing talks with militant factions like Hamas and Islamic Jihad "to guarantee the unity of the Palestinian national movement" on the Gaza issue, while Mr. Arafat would work to control the disputes within his faction, Fatah, which is the largest, the most important and the most secular.

Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian minister, said there would be a meeting of security chiefs with Mr. Suleiman in Cairo next week, with another meeting of the Palestinian political factions in Cairo on Sept. 18.

For his part, the Israeli defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, answering callers' questions on Army Radio, said Israel had no current plans "to bring about the removal of Yasir Arafat from the region," but remained committed to doing so. He said Israel's first priority was to carry out the Gaza disengagement plan.


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