John Glaser/ AntiWar.com & David Ignatius / Washington Post – 2012-02-02 23:58:08
Israel Ramps Up Push for Attack on Iran
John Glaser / AntiWar.com
(February 2, 2012) — Israeli officials have apparently been engaged in an aggressive public relations offensive to broaden support for a military attack on Iran, with particular emphasis on American audiences.
Israel’s strategy conference this week in Herzliya, a Tel Aviv suburb, has featured highly publicized speeches by many Israeli officials. Specifically, they have claimed that Iran currently possesses long-range missiles that could reach the United States and enough the material to build four nuclear weapons.
For months, Israeli officials have been feeling out the Obama administration’s appetite for a war with Iran. Reports have revealed that US officials have tried to assure Israel that a military strike is in principle on the table, while simultaneously urging them not to attack unilaterally.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told Israeli leaders on Jan. 20 that the US would not participate in a war against Iran begun by Israel unless explicitly agreed upon beforehand. But Israeli officials have not been satisfied with this reluctance.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has expressed concern that Israel will unilaterally attack Iran sometime in “April, May or June,” something a number of US military and intelligence officials have argued against.
At the conference, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak put an attack on Iran in a global context, claiming that support for such a strike is coming from the whole world as opposed to couching it in terms of America having his back. “Today as opposed to in the past,” Barak said, “there is wide world understanding that in the event that sanctions won’t reach the intended result of stopping the military nuclear program, there will be need to consider action.”
Vice Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon, too, fought back against arguments that a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be insufficient, and perhaps counterproductive, in halting their enrichment. “It’s possible to strike all Iran’s facilities,” Ya’alon declared.
Ya’alon also tried to frame US-backing as really a tit-for-tat exchange as well as a security imperative for Washington. He claimed, without any evidence, that Israel had been behind an explosion at an Iranian missile base late last year where Iran was developing missiles “with a range of 10,000 kilometers” that could have reached the United States.
Yoram Cohen, head of the Shin Bet security service, made unfounded claims about alleged Iranian attacks on “Israeli targets” around the world, although he gave no firm evidence to back them up. “Over the past year three serious attacks were thwarted that were on the verge of being carried out,” the Shin Bet head said. “In Turkey against the general consul in Istanbul; in Baku, Azerbaijan; and two weeks ago in Thailand.”
Also at the conference, Israeli Major-General Aviv Kochavi claimed that “Iran has accumulated more than 4 tonnes of uranium enriched to a level of 3.5 percent and nearly 100 kilos at an enrichment level of 20 percent. This amount of material is already enough for four atomic bombs.”
Nuclear bombs require uranium enriched to 90 percent, but Kochavi said Iran could quickly get there if it wanted. “From the moment Khamenei gives an orderâ€¦to speed up production of the first nuclear explosive device, we estimate it will take about a year to complete the task,” adding that arming a missile with a nuclear warhead could take a year or two longer.
On this score, Israelis have faced reluctance from the US because there is no evidence of any military dimension to Iran’s nuclear program. The opinion of the US intelligence community, the Obama administration, and the latest IAEA report is that Iran’s enrichment is so far civilian in nature.
All 16 US intelligence agencies concluded in 2007, and again in 2011, that there is no military dimension to Iran’s nuclear program. And despite the hyperbolic reporting on it, the latest report from the IAEA said, “the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material.”
As Adm. Dennis Blair, Obama’s former director of national intelligence, told Congress in March 2009, “We judge in fall 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons design and weaponization activities” but that Tehran “is keeping open the option to develop them.”
Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the IAEA, said that same year that he did not “believe the Iranians have made a decision to go for a nuclear weapon, but they are absolutely determined to have the technology because they believe it brings you power, prestige and an insurance policy.” This is likely a deterrence strategy, as opposed to a desire to actually attain nuclear weapons.
Despite the near consensus that Iran has not yet chosen to have a nuclear weapons program, the United States has heaped a crippling set of sanctions on Iran, partially to satisfy Israeli concerns and pressure. This is unlikely to have any effect on Iranian nuclear policy and has already had terrible consequences for ordinary Iranians in a struggling economy.
The Obama administration has also bolstered the US military presence in the Gulf region as a bulwark against Iran. “With an eye on the threat of a belligerent Iran,” the New York Times reported in October, “the administration is also seeking to expand military ties with the six nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.”
In addition to all of this, has been engaged in extensive covert operations against Iran including funding dissident groups that aim to undermine the regime, cyber-terrorism, commercial sabotage, and targeted assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.
Despite all of this overt and covert aggression, Israelis are not satisfied, continuing to push for war. But Israel is not unanimous on the issue. Notably, top former Israeli intelligence official Meir Dagan has been outspoken against an attack on Iran, nothing the dangerous potential for a protracted, bloody war.
Along with the intelligence community’s near-consensus on the civilian nature of Iran’s nuclear program, the Iranian government itself denies any intention to build the bomb. As a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treat (NPT), they have legally bound themselves to non-proliferation, while Israel refuses to sign the treaty and has hundreds of secret nuclear warheads.
Is Israel Preparing To Attack Iran?
David Ignatius / Washington Post
BRUSSELS (February 2, 2012) — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has a lot on his mind these days, from cutting the defense budget to managing the drawdown of US forces in Afghanistan. But his biggest worry is the growing possibility that Israel will attack Iran over the next few months.
Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June — before Iran enters what Israelis described as a “zone of immunity” to commence building a nuclear bomb. Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon — and only the United States could then stop them militarily.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t want to leave the fate of Israel dependent on American action, which would be triggered by intelligence that Iran is building a bomb, which it hasn’t done yet.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak may have signaled the prospect of an Israeli attack soon when he asked last month to postpone a planned US-Israel military exercise that would culminate in a live-fire phase in May. Barak apologized that Israel couldn’t devote the resources to the annual exercise this spring.
President Obama and Panetta are said to have cautioned the Israelis that the United States opposes an attack, believing that it would derail an increasingly successful international economic sanctions program and other non-military efforts to stop Iran from crossing the threshold. But the White House hasn’t yet decided precisely how the United States would respond if the Israelis do attack.
The Obama administration is conducting intense discussions about what an Israeli attack would mean for the United States: whether Iran would target US ships in the region or try to close the Strait of Hormuz; and what effect the conflict and a likely spike in oil prices would have on the fragile global economy.
The administration appears to favor staying out of the conflict unless Iran hits US assets, which would trigger a strong US response.
This US policy — signaling that Israel is acting on its own — might open a breach like the one in 1956, when President Dwight Eisenhower condemned an Israeli-European attack on the Suez Canal. Complicating matters is the 2012 presidential campaign, which has Republicans candidates clamoring for stronger US support of Israel.
Administration officials caution that Tehran shouldn’t misunderstand: The United States has a 60-year commitment to Israeli security, and if Israel’s population centers were hit, the United States could feel obligated to come to Israel’s defense.
Israelis are said to believe that a military strike could be limited and contained. They would bomb the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz and other targets; an attack on the buried enrichment facility at Qom would be harder from the air. Iranians would retaliate, but Israelis doubt that the action would be an overwhelming barrage, with rockets from Hezbollah forces in Lebanon. One Israeli estimate is that the Jewish state might have to absorb 500 casualties.
Israelis point to Syria’s lack of response to an Israeli attack on a nuclear reactor there in 2007. Iranians might show similar restraint, because of fear the regime would be endangered by all-out war. Some Israelis have also likened a strike on Iran to the 1976 hostage-rescue raid on Entebbe, Uganda, which was followed by a change of regime in that country.
Israeli leaders are said to accept, and even welcome, the prospect of going it alone and demonstrating their resolve at a time when their security is undermined by the Arab Spring.
“You stay to the side, and let us do it,” one Israeli official is said to have advised the United States. A “short-war” scenario assumes five days or so of limited Israeli strikes, followed by a UN-brokered cease-fire. The Israelis are said to recognize that damage to the nuclear program might be modest, requiring another strike in a few years.
US officials see two possible ways to dissuade the Israelis from such an attack: Tehran could finally open serious negotiations for a formula to verifiably guarantee that its nuclear program will remain a civilian one; or the United States could step up its covert actions to degrade the program so much that Israelis would decide that military action wasn’t necessary.
US officials don’t think that Netanyahu has made a final decision to attack, and they note that top Israeli intelligence officials remain skeptical of the project. But senior Americans doubt that the Israelis are bluffing. They’re worrying about the guns of spring — and the unintended consequences.
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