World must limit Iran’s missile capacity, Peres tells EU

Addressing European parliament in Strasbourg, president demands that Hezbollah be branded a terror group, urges Arab League intervention in Syria

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Shimon Peres addresses the European Parliament, March 12 (photo credit: EU screenshot)
Shimon Peres addresses the European Parliament, March 12 (photo credit: EU screenshot)

President Shimon Peres called on the international community Tuesday to limit Iran’s production of the long-range missiles that could deliver nuclear weapons, in addition to restricting the regime’s uranium enrichment program.

In a speech at the European parliament in Strasbourg — the first time an Israeli leader addressed that body in nearly 30 years — Peres also appealed to the European Union to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization. He said he opposed Western intervention in Syria, suggesting instead that the Arab League form a provisional government in Syria that would attempt to stop the bloodshed.

“I believe that in addition to controlling the production of highly enriched uranium there is a need to control the means of delivery, to control the production of missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads,” Peres told hundreds of European legislators. “Khamenei declared that religion prohibits the production and the use of nuclear arms. Why, then, does he build missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads?” Peres asked, referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader.

Calling the government in Tehran the “greatest danger to peace in the world,” Peres said Iran’s human rights violations should be condemned in order to strengthen the Iranian people’s resolve to stand up to the dictatorial regime.

In 1975, the United States placed the issue of human rights in the Soviet Union at the top of the world’s agenda, Peres said, suggesting the West adopt a similar approach to Iran now. “It was surprising and effective,” Peres said. “A moral voice will encourage the Iranian people in their fight for freedom, in their strife against misery.”

On Monday, EU foreign ministers prolonged by a year the EU’s restrictive measures against Iran “in response to serious human rights violations.” At a meeting of the union’s Foreign Affairs Council, nine Iranian individuals blamed for “serious human rights violations” were added to a list of people subject to a travel ban and an asset freeze, bringing the number of Iranians targeted to 87. The council also decided to freeze the assets of one entity responsible for human rights violations.

Peres also addressed the upcoming elections in Iran: “The ayatollahs should not be allowed to falsify the results, to frustrate the right of the people to make their own free choice. Your voice, ladies and gentlemen, will show the Iranian people that the world has not turned its back on them.”

The Iranian presidential elections are scheduled for June 14. The incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will not stand for reelection because of a two-term limit.

Peres’s speech was the first time a senior Israeli official addressed the European parliament in its current extended format with 754 members from 27 member states. In 1985, then-president Chaim Herzog spoke to the parliament in Strasbourg; at the time, the union had only 10 members.

Appealing to the EU to review its stance on Hezbollah, Peres emphasized that the Lebanese Shiite group is a terrorist organization and not a political movement. “They collect missiles. They are trigger-happy. They hide missiles in peaceful towns and villages. By doing so, they turn them into a war target,” he said. “Hezbollah is a state within a state, a private army apart from the national army.”

Hezbollah recently attempted 20 terror attacks across the globe, for example in America, India, Thailand, Georgia, South Africa, Egypt Greece and other countries, Peres said. Referring to the terror attack in the Bulgarian town of Burgas on July 18, 2012, which killed five Israelis and one Bulgarian citizen and which Bulgaria has attributed to Hezbollah, Peres turned directly to the parliamentarians: “Your voice is highly respected. We appeal to you: call terror — terror. Save Lebanon from terrorist madness.”

“Save the Syrian people from Iran’s proxies. Save your citizens and ours from Hezbollah. The international community must designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization,” Peres said.

Addressing the current civil war in Syria and Israel’s worries about the rebels obtaining nonconventional weapons, he suggested the Arab League, of which Syria is a member, should intervene.

“The intervention of Western forces would be perceived as a foreign interference. The Arab League can and should form a provisional government in Syria to stop the massacre, to prevent Syria from falling to pieces,” Peres said. “The United Nations should support an Arab force in blue helmets.”

Peres, who is wrapping up a weeklong visit to Europe and will return to Israel on Wednesday, said the establishment of a new Israeli government, which will most likely be sworn in later this week, marks an opportunity to resume peace negotiations with the Palestinians with the goal of arriving at a two-state solution. “There is no other solution — neither for the Palestinians nor for us,” he said. “It is not only our preference. It is the call of the present reality.”

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