updated 2/6/2006 7:41:13 AM ET 2006-02-06T12:41:13

Israel on Sunday welcomed the decision to report Iran’s nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council, but analysts said Israeli officials were likely less pleased by wording that alludes to the Jewish state’s suspected nuclear stockpile.

In negotiations over the resolution by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Egypt sought to link fears about Tehran’s atomic program to a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East — an indirect reference to Israel.

Compromise wording made no specific reference to Israel, but the final resolution stated that “a solution to the Iranian issue would contribute to global nonproliferation efforts and ... the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.”

Experts say Israel has the world’s sixth-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons, but the Jewish state neither acknowledges nor denies having such a program.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday lauded the IAEA’s decision, saying it was now charged to “ultimately exact a very heavy price from Iran if it persists with these plans and tries to enrich fuel so it can realize its option to build non-conventional weapons.”

Tel Aviv sees no linkage
Mark Regev, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Israel does not see a linkage in the decision between the Iranian nuclear program and Israel.

“On the contrary, we see a resolution that is taking the Iranian issue to the U.N. Security Council, which is something we support,” Regev said.

Analysts said the connection was clear, though they said the wording would have no effect on Israel.

“What I think Israel is against is linking the very crucial Iranian nuclear weapons development program with the other extraneous issues, which have nothing to do with it,” said Ephraim Asculai, an analyst at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.

Emily Landau, director of the arms control and regional security project at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, said the wording “was a concession to Egypt so Egypt would vote together with the U.S. and Western states: If you’re going to put pressure on Iran, you’re going to have to have something that will relate to Israel.”

Uzi Arad, director of Israel’s Institute of Policy and Strategy, said that with Mideast peace prospects unlikely, pressure on Israel to eliminate nuclear arms is not on the international agenda.

He said he expected countries to concentrate on Iran as “being by far the most serious and immediate threat to Middle East and stability.”

Israel has long identified Iran as the greatest threat to the Jewish state, accusing Tehran of developing nuclear weapons.

Israeli leaders have repeatedly said diplomatic pressure is the best way to end Iran’s nuclear program, with military action to be considered only as a last resort.

Tehran insists its nuclear program is peaceful and designed only to produce energy. Israel disputes that, and has grown especially concerned following Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s calls for Israel’s destruction.

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