WASHINGTON - The Israeli ambassador in Washington called for "regime change" in Iran and Syria on Monday through diplomatic isolation, economic sanctions and what he called "psychological pressure."
Ambassador Daniel Ayalon said the U.S. invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein helped create great opportunities for Israel but it was "not enough."
"It has to follow through. We still have great threats of that magnitude coming from Syria, coming from Iran," he told a conference of the pro-Israeli Anti-Defamation League.
Ayalon said he did not advocate or foresee the invasion of Syria and Iran. "I certainly do not see any aggressive military campaign. I don't think that would be the right thing. Nobody is suggesting that," he said.
But he added: "There are other means that can be exhausted ... The way to deal with Iran for instance is to delegitimize its regime and the way to do that is applying political pressure ... and to really apply economic sanctions."
Governments should not allow visits by Iranian leaders such as President Mohammad Khatami and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and foreign leaders should not visit Iran, he said.
He criticized the European Union for encouraging commercial relations with Iran. "I don't think this is the way to deal with them, because the more the regime is isolated, the shorter its days and, as I mentioned, there is fertile ground in Iran to have a regime change there," he said.
"Seventy percent of the population (of Iran) are really ready for regime change. They have tasted, they have been experiencing before democracy and Western cultures and they are yearning for it," he added.
He was apparently referring to the authoritarian and undemocratic rule of the Shah of Iran, who was overthrown in 1979 by a popular revolution in the name of Islam.
Ayalon spoke less about Syria, which held peace negotiations with Israel until 2000, but to most of his comments on Iran he added that the same applied to Syria.
"The important thing is to show (international) political unity and this is the key element to pressure the Iranians into a regime change and the same case is with the Syrians. So this is the direction -- a lot of psychological pressure.
Ayalon complained of Syria and Iranian support for Lebanese and Palestinians guerrilla groups which attack Israelis and said that Iran had accelerated its quest for nuclear weapons.
"If we thought a few years ago that they are five or six years shy from a nuclear device, now it's being very sharply reduced, the time that they can achieve that," he said.
On the Middle East peace plan which the United States is expected to release this week, the ambassador said that for peace talks to succeed the new Palestinian prime minister will have to create new security organizations and dismantle the infrastructure of groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
The prime minister-designate, Mahmoud Abbas or Abu Mazen, is expected to win a vote of confidence from the Palestinian legislature this week, clearing the way for serious talks on the peace plan, also known as the road map.
Ayalon said: "We are not going to put (this) as conditional for starting the process but certainly the process cannot go forward if terror continues. There cannot be a situation where we negotiate during the day and get killed at night.
"Any progress, any program will be driven by performance and we will not move from any stage to the next until specific benchmarks have been fulfilled."
Answering American-Jewish mistrust of the European Union and the United Nations, which are joint authors of the road map with the United States, Burns said that there was no substitute for "strong American leadership."
© 2003 Reuters Ltd