Uzi Mahnaimi and Sarah Baxter / The London Times Online – 2005-12-11 23:28:00
Israel Readies Forces for Strike on Nuclear Iran
Uzi Mahnaimi and Sarah Baxter / The London Times Online
TEL AVIV / WASHINGTON. DC (December 11, 2005) — Isreal’s armed forces have been ordered by Ariel Sharon, the prime minister, to be ready by the end of March for possible strikes on secret uranium enrichment sites in Iran, military sources have revealed.
The order came after Israeli intelligence warned the government that Iran was operating enrichment facilities, believed to be small and concealed in civilian locations.
Iran’s stand-off with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over nuclear inspections and aggressive rhetoric from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, who said last week that Israel should be moved to Europe, are causing mounting concern.
The crisis is set to come to a head in early March, when Mohamed El-Baradei, the head of the IAEA, will present his next report on Iran. El-Baradei, who received the Nobel peace prize yesterday, warned that the world was “losing patience” with Iran.
A senior White House source said the threat of a nuclear Iran was moving to the top of the international agenda and the issue now was: “What next?” That question would have to be answered in the next few months, he said.
Defence sources in Israel believe the end of March to be the “point of no return” after which Iran will have the technical expertise to enrich uranium in sufficient quantities to build a nuclear warhead in two to four years.
“Israel — and not only Israel — cannot accept a nuclear Iran,” Sharon warned recently. “We have the ability to deal with this and we’re making all the necessary preparations to be ready for such a situation.”
The order to prepare for a possible attack went through the Israeli defence ministry to the chief of staff. Sources inside special forces command confirmed that “G” readiness — the highest stage — for an operation was announced last week.
Gholamreza Aghazadeah, head of the Atomic Organisation of Iran, warned yesterday that his country would produce nuclear fuel. “There is no doubt that we have to carry out uranium enrichment,” he said.
He promised it would not be done during forthcoming talks with European negotiators. But although Iran insists it wants only nuclear energy, Israeli intelligence has concluded it is deceiving the world and has no intention of giving up what it believes is its right to develop nuclear weapons.
A “massive” Israeli intelligence operation has been underway since Iran was designated the “top priority for 2005”, according to security sources.
Cross-border operations and signal intelligence from a base established by the Israelis in northern Iraq are said to have identified a number of Iranian uranium enrichment sites unknown to the the IAEA.
Since Israel destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981, “it has been understood that the lesson is, don’t have one site, have 50 sites”, a White House source said.
If a military operation is approved, Israel will use air and ground forces against several nuclear targets in the hope of stalling Tehran’s nuclear programme for years, according to Israeli military sources.
It is believed Israel would call on its top special forces brigade, Unit 262 — the equivalent of the SAS — and the F-15I strategic 69 Squadron, which can strike Iran and return to Israel without refuelling.
“If we opt for the military strike,” said a source, “it must be not less than 100% successful. It will resemble the destruction of the Egyptian air force in three hours in June 1967.”
Aharon Zeevi Farkash, the Israeli military intelligence chief, stepped up the pressure on Iran this month when he warned Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, that “if by the end of March the international community is unable to refer the Iranian issue to the United Nations security council, then we can say the international effort has run its course”.
The March deadline set for military readiness also stems from fears that Iran is improving its own intelligence-gathering capability. In October it launched its first satellite, the Sinah-1, which was carried by a Russian space launcher.
“The Iranians’ space programme is a matter of deep concern to us,” said an Israeli defence source. “If and when we launch an attack on several Iranian targets, the last thing we need is Iranian early warning received by satellite.”
Russia last week signed an estimated $1 billion contract — its largest since 2000 — to sell Iran advanced Tor-M1 systems capable of destroying guided missiles and laser-guided bombs from aircraft.
“Once the Iranians get the Tor-M1, it will make our life much more difficult,” said an Israeli air force source. “The installation of this system can be relatively quick and we can’t waste time on this one.”
The date set for possible Israeli strikes on Iran also coincides with Israel’s general election on March 28, prompting speculation that Sharon may be sabre-rattling for votes.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the frontrunner to lead Likud into the elections, said that if Sharon did not act against Iran, “then when I form the new Israeli government, we’ll do what we did in the past against Saddam’s reactor, which gave us 20 years of tranquillity”.
TEHRAN MINISTER MET MILITANTS BEFORE NEW OFFENSIVE
Iran’s foreign minister met leading figures from three Islamic militant groups to co-ordinate a united front against Israel days before a recent escalation of attacks against Israeli targets shattered fragile ceasefires with Lebanon and the Palestinians, writes Hugh Macleod in Damascus.
The minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, held talks with leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah in Damascus on November 15.
Among those who attended the meeting were Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, and a deputy leader of Islamic Jihad, which claimed responsibility for last Monday’s suicide bombing of a shopping mall in Netanya that killed five Israeli citizens.
Ahmed Jibril, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine- General Command, was also present. “We all confirmed that what is going on in occupied Palestine is organically connected to what is going on in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Lebanon,” said Jibril.
Seven days after the talks, Hezbollah fired a volley of rockets and mortars at Israeli targets, sparking the fiercest fighting between the two sides since Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon five years ago.
Should Israel Give Up its Nukes?
George Bisharat / LA Times
(December 9, 2005) — In a sudden attack of common sense, a Pentagon- commissioned study released in mid-November suggests an approach to nuclear nonproliferation in the Middle East that might actually be accepted by the people of the region. What is this breakthrough idea? That US policies begin not with a country that currently lacks nuclear weapons – Iran – but rather with the one that by virtually all accounts already has them – Israel.
To avert Iran’s apparent drive for nuclear weapons, concludes Henry Sokolski, a co-editor of “Getting Ready for a Nuclear-Ready Iran,” Israel should freeze and begin to dismantle its nuclear capability.
This and other recommendations emerged from two years of deliberations by experts on the Middle East and nuclear nonproliferation.
Limiting the spread of nuclear weapons is a pivotal US foreign policy objective. As the sole nation ever to have employed them, we bear a special responsibility to prevent their use in the future. With regard to the Middle East, we rightly worry not only about the potential use of the weapons themselves but about the political leverage bestowed on those who would possess them.
However, there is an Achilles heel in our nonproliferation policy: the double standard that US administrations since the 1960s have applied with respect to Israel’s weapons of mass destruction. Israel’s suspected arsenal includes chemical, biological and about 100 to 200 nuclear warheads, and the capacity to deliver them.
Initially, the United States opposed Israel’s nuclear weapons program. President Kennedy dispatched inspectors to the Dimona generating plant in Israel’s south, and he cautioned Israel against developing atomic weapons. Anticipating the 1962 visit of American inspectors, Israel reportedly constructed a fake wall at Dimona to conceal its weapons production.
Since then, no US administration has effectively pressured Israel to either halt its program or to submit to inspections under the International Atomic Energy Agency. Nor has Israel been required to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The apparent rationale: Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of an ally are simply not an urgent concern.
Yet this rationale neglects a fundamental law of arms proliferation. Nations seek WMD when their rivals already possess them. Israel’s nuclear capability has clearly fueled WMD ambitions within the Middle East. Saddam Hussein, for example, in an April 1990 speech to his military, threatened to retaliate against any Israeli nuclear attack with chemical weapons – the “poor man’s atomic bomb.”
WASHINGTON’S inconsistency on the nuclear issue in the Middle East has been terribly corrosive of American legitimacy throughout the world, and a reversal of our policy would be widely noted regionally.
Nor is our international legitimacy all that is at stake. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, a panicky Israel, facing early battlefield losses, threatened a nuclear strike. This evoked a massive arms shipment from the United States, eventually permitting Israel to turn the tide of the war – demonstrating the kinds of pressures that nuclear powers can apply, even on allies. Although many view Israel’s victory with favor, it surely enabled subsequent decades of Israeli intransigence over the fate of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and has contributed to the impasse afflicting the region.
The study’s authors include retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom and Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the pro-Israeli Washington Institute for Near East Policy – in short, no enemies of Israel. Their suggestion is comparatively mild: Israel should take small, reversible steps toward nuclear disarmament to encourage Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Nonetheless, Israeli leaders reportedly have already demurred.
One can anticipate the bipartisan stampede of US lawmakers to denounce the recommendation should it win official US backing. That would be a shame. Sooner or later, common sense must prevail in our Middle East policy. Otherwise, we will continue to run our global stature into the ground.
GEORGE BISHARAT is a professor of law at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco and writes frequently on law and politics in the Middle East.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.