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Why is Israel now quiet over Iran sanctions?

After last week's call for 'crippling sanctions' against Iran, Israel has adopted an 'eloquent silence' on the issue while it waits to see how Thursday's historic nuclear talks go.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 30, 2009

An Iranian Tondar missile is launched during a test on Sunday at an unknown location in central Iran. Iran test-fired the short-range missiles to show it was prepared to head off any military threat, four days before the Islamic Republic is due to hold rare talks with world powers worried about its nuclear ambitions.

Ali Shayegan/Fars News/REUTERS

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Jerusalem

A curious thing happened on the way to the meeting that Middle East analysts and nuclear weapons-watchers have all been waiting for: Israel dialed down its rhetoric against Iran.

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On Thursday, officials from the Islamic Republic of Iran will meet in Geneva with officials from the US and other UN Security Council members to discuss Iran's nuclear program. Iran acknowledged last week that it has been building a second, heretofore secret uranium enrichment facility burrowed in the mountains near the holy city of Qom.

Israel, which considers itself the foremost target of an Iranian nuclear weapon, has been at the forefront of an international campaign for hard-hitting sanctions against Tehran if it doesn't accede to a more transparent monitoring regime. Israel has hinted that if it reaches the end of its diplomatic rope it may launch an attack on one or more of Iran's nuclear sites, just as Israel struck at the Osirak site in Iraq in 1981.

But Israel has grown noticeably quiet on Iran's nuclear program in the past week, an approach apparently aimed at letting bigger powers do the talking for now. The "eloquent silence," as one official here called it, may be a mark of taking a back seat and waiting to see how Iran faces off with the the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the US, Britain, France, China, and Russia) and Germany, which are often called the P5+1. Which stance Israel takes toward Iran in coming weeks probably depends heavily on how Chinese and Russian officials react to discussions of possible new sanctions during Thursday's historic meeting. Those two powers, with deepening economic ties to Iran, have until now been much less inclined to support sanctions than their counterparts in London, Paris, and Washington.

"The big question is how it will play out in that meeting: where Russia will stand, where China will stand," says Dr. Emily Landau, the Director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies. "They each have their own unique take on this, and have their own ideas about the best road forward. It's not a unified force, and we've seen their different interests being played out over the past seven years since this crisis began."

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