Reuters & Con Coughlin / The Telegraph – 2011-12-10 00:32:26
US Ramps Up Warnings on Iran Strike Risks
WASHINGTON (December 5, 2011) — The United States has pointedly ramped up its public warnings over the last few weeks about the risks of military action against Iran, accompanied by private words of caution to Israel, which sees Tehran’s nuclear push as a direct threat.
But so far, at least, comments by US and Israeli officials suggest that Washington’s private lobbying has yet to convince Israeli hard-liners and even some moderates that alternatives, like sanctions and diplomatic pressure, will ultimately succeed in curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
It is unclear whether the differing views are any indication about whether Israel might be moving closer to a go-it-alone military strike, an option Tel Aviv has ruled out for the moment. Indeed, that may ultimately not be the case.
Rhetoric has periodically escalated over the years, often bolstering pushes — like the present one — for tougher sanctions against Iran. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a speech on Sunday widely seen within Israel as hinting about policy on Iran, spoke about making “the right decision at the right moment,” even when allies object. A nuclear-armed Iran, Netanyahu has said, is an existential threat to Israel.
Netanyahu’s comments came on the heels of US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s strongest comments yet explaining America’s concerns about a military strike on Iran. Panetta said it risked “an escalation” that could “consume the Middle East in confrontation and conflict that we would regret.” It could also hobble the fragile US and European economies and might do little to actually stop Iran from getting an atomic weapon — a goal Tehran denies having.
Iran says its uranium enrichment is for peaceful purposes.
Panetta, citing conversations with his “Israeli friends,” said an attack would only set back Iran’s nuclear program by one to two years at best. He also warned about blowback to US forces in the region.
“The United States would obviously be blamed and we could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, striking our ships, striking our military bases,” Panetta told a forum in Washington on Friday.
Panetta privately outlined US concerns in talks with Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Canada last month, including the impact a strike would have on the world economy. Analysts say Tehran could retaliate by closing the Strait of Hormuz, the waterway where about 40 percent of all traded oil passes.
President Barack Obama, who is gearing up for a re-election battle next year, has had more trouble than his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, in winning Israeli trust. Bruce Riedel, a former adviser to the Obama administration and former senior CIA expert on the Middle East, said Washington was deeply wary of being dragged into a conflict that, from its perspective, might be unnecessary.
“Obama knows a strike on Iran by Israel will create a regional war and a global economic meltdown that America will have to clean up,” Riedel said. “And he knows Israel — with its own considerable nuclear arsenal — does not face an existential threat from a nuclear Iran.”
But, even considering likely retaliation on US forces, the top US military officer told Reuters in an interview this week he did not know whether the Jewish state would even give the United States notice ahead of time if it decided to act.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also suggested there was a gap in perspective between Israel and the United States, which sees sanctions and diplomatic pressure as the right path to take on Iran.
“I’m not sure the Israelis share our assessment of that. And because they don’t and because to them this is an existential threat, I think probably that it’s fair to say that our expectations are different right now,” Dempsey said.
Iran is facing another wave of sanctions following a report last month by the U.N. nuclear watchdog which said Tehran appeared to have worked on designing an atom bomb and may still be pursuing secret research to that end.
Barak said on Thursday an Israeli attack on Iran was not imminent. But, asked about Dempsey’s comments to Reuters, Barak said Israel “greatly respects” the United States. “But one must remember that ultimately, Israel is a sovereign nation and the Israeli government, defense forces and security services — not others — are responsible for Israel’s security, future and existence,” Barak said.
Barak, in a radio interview, said Israel would be very glad if sanctions and diplomacy brought the Iranian leadership to a clear decision to abandon its nuclear military program. But, “unfortunately, I think that is not going to happen,” he said.
Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and; David Alexander in Washington.
(c) Thomson Reuters 2011. All rights reserved.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Prepare for War
Con Coughlin / The Telegraph
LONDON (December 5, 2011) — An order from Gen Mohammed Ali Jaafari, the commander of the guards, raised the operational readiness status of the countryâ€™s forces, initiating preparations for potential external strikes and covert attacks.
Western intelligence officials said the Islamic Republic had initiated plans to disperse long-range missiles, high explosives, artillery and guards units to key defensive positions.
The order was given in response to the mounting international pressure over Iranâ€™s nuclear programme. Preparation for a confrontation has gathered pace following last monthâ€™s report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna that produced evidence that Iran was actively working to produce nuclear weapons.
The Iranian leadership fears the country is being subjected to a carefully co-ordinated attack by Western intelligence and security agencies to destroy key elements of its nuclear infrastructure.
Recent explosions have added to the growing sense of paranoia within Iran, with the regime fearing it will be the target of a surprise military strike by Israel or the US.
Its ballistic missile programme suffered a major setback on Nov 12 after an explosion at the regimeâ€™s main missile testing facility at Bidganeh, about 30 miles west of Tehran.
At least 17 people died, including Gen Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, the head of Iranâ€™s missile research programme.
The IAEA report said Iranian scientists had worked to develop a missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Security analysts described Iranâ€™s missile advances as â€œa turning pointâ€ that had â€œprofound strategic implicationsâ€.
Last week another mysterious explosion caused significant damage to Iranâ€™s uranium conversion facility at Isfahan.
â€œIt looks like the 21st century form of war,â€ said Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Washington think tank, told the Los Angeles Times. â€œIt does appear that there is a campaign of assassinations and cyber war, as well as the semi-acknowledged campaign of sabotage.â€
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iranâ€™s spiritual leader, issued a directive to the heads of all the countryâ€™s military, intelligence and security organisations to take all necessary measures to protect the regime.
Gen Jaafari responded to this directive by ordering Revolutionary Guards units to redistribute Iranâ€™s arsenal of long-range Shahab missiles to secret sites around the country where they would be safe from enemy attack and could be used to launch retaliatory attacks.
In addition, the Iranian air force has formed a number of â€œrapid reaction unitsâ€, which have been carrying out extensive exercises to practice a response to an enemy air attack.
At the weekend, Iran claimed it had succeeded in shooting down an advanced American RQ-170 drone in the east of the country. If true, this would represent a major coup for the ayatollahs, as this type of drone contains sensitive stealth technology that allows it to operate for hours without being detected.
A spokesman for Natoâ€™s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan would only confirm that US operators had â€œlost controlâ€ of a drone, without specifying the model.
Intelligence officials believe the dangerous game of cat and mouse between Iran and the West was responsible for last weekâ€™s attack on the British Embassy in Tehran. William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, closed the embassy and expelled Iranian diplomats in response.
But with Iran showing no sign of backing down over its nuclear programme, there is growing concern that Israel will launch unilateral military action.
At the weekend, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israelâ€™s prime minister, warned that he would take â€œthe right decision at the right momentâ€ if Iran continued with its uranium enrichment programme.
Israelâ€™s uncompromising approach is viewed with alarm in Washington.
Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, has warned that a unilateral strike by Israel risked â€œan escalationâ€ that could â€œconsume the Middle East in confrontation and conflict that we would regretâ€.
A senior Western intelligence official said: “There is deep concern within the senior leadership of the Iranian regime that they will be the target of a surprise military strike by either Israel or the US.
“For that reason they are taking all necessary precautions to ensure they can defend themselves properly if an attack happens.”
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