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Israel lobbies powers to stay tough on Iran amid Iraq crisis

by Maayan Lubell, Reuters

June 18, 2014 | 1:25 pm

<em>Tribal fighters in Basra, southeast of Baghdad, on June 18. Photo by Essam Al-Sudani/Reuters</em>

Tribal fighters in Basra, southeast of Baghdad, on June 18. Photo by Essam Al-Sudani/Reuters

Israel is lobbying world powers not to ease their pressure on Iran to curb its disputed nuclear programme should Tehran cooperate with the West in beating back Sunni Muslim insurgencies that have spiralled from Syria into Iraq.

A lightning advance has seen Sunni fighters rout the army of Iraq's Shi'ite-led government and seize the main cities across the north since last week, prompting Iran, the Middle East's main Shi'ite power, to state that it is prepared to intervene to defend Shi'ite holy sites in Iraq.

While echoing global jitters at the Iraqi bloodshed, Israelis are alarmed by Washington's willingness to cooperate with its old adversary Iran in securing the Arab state.

A senior U.S. official said on Monday the United States may discuss the security crisis in Iraq with Iran on the sidelines of this week's nuclear talks in Vienna.

"We are working to prevent a situation in which, in light of the increasing danger of Global Jihad elements, Iran and its allies are portrayed as blocking the spread of such elements in the area," Israeli cabinet minister Uzi Landau told parliament on Wednesday.

Israel fears what it says is a growing "arc" of Iranian influence from Iraq to Syria, where Tehran backs embattled President Bashar al-Assad, on to Lebanon, where it has a powerful proxy in the Hezbollah militia.

"The threat Iran and Hezbollah pose to stability, to Israel's security and to other moderate players in the region must not be forgotten, so it is a two-fold battle," Landau said.

Israel's Foreign Ministry would "intensify contact with the international and regional powers" on the matter, he added.

"Global Jihad" is an Israeli term for al Qaeda and other radical Sunni groups. They are eclipsed in Israel's threat assessments by the prospect of its arch-foe Iran gaining the means to make nuclear weapons.

Iran, which denies seeking nuclear bombs and points to Israel's assumed atomic arsenal as the real menace, is negotiating with world powers about rolling back its nuclear programme in exchange for an easing of their sanctions.

Those talks look unlikely to bring an accord by the July 20 deadline, however, given enduring disputes over the scale of uranium enrichment and other projects Iran would be allowed to retain.

Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli cabinet minister who liaises with the United States and European powers about the nuclear diplomacy, said they had assured him they would hold course in the negotiations regardless of any Iranian cooperation in Iraq.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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