Carla Marinucci / San Francisco Chronicle – 2012-09-27 00:19:03
SAN FRANCISCO (September 26, 2012) — California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday in San Francisco that while Iran’s nuclear capability is rapidly advancing, she does not believe that the United States would make a pre-emptive strike on that country, “nor do I believe that would be the right thing to do.”
Feinstein, a Democrat who is seeking her fifth term in the Senate this year, made the comments during an hour-long meeting with The Chronicle‘s editorial board.
Asked about the growing sentiment that the United States might intervene to stop Iran’s march toward nuclear capability — and the resultant threat to Israel — Feinstein said, “I wouldn’t make that conclusion at this time. The decision, we are assured, has not been made to go forward with a weapon.”
But because Iranians are “enriching uranium as quickly as they possibly can,” Feinstein said, “the question becomes: Can the program be taken out?”
Based on recent committee briefings, she said, “intelligence says it can be delayed but not likely taken out. There are more than two dozen (nuclear) places.”
Despite the threats that Iran’s nuclear program could pose to Israel and the Middle East, Feinstein is wary of U.S. involvement in the Iranian situation — particularly in light of former President George W. Bush’s decision to send troops into Iraq based on what intelligence officials and Bush himself said was overwhelming evidence of weapons of mass destruction.
‘I Think I’ve Learned’
“It was wrong and it was bad intelligence â€¦ and I cast my vote,” she said Tuesday. “That was a pre-emptive vote for regime change, nothing more, nothing less. I have to live with that. And I think I’ve learned from that.”
Feinstein’s comments came as President Obama had tough words for Iran, telling the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday that he prefers diplomacy to resolve issues with that nation’s nuclear program. But because Iran has repeatedly failed to provide evidence that the program is peaceful, Obama warned, “the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sparked anger Monday by dismissing Israel as a mere footnote in the Middle East region.
“‘They have no roots there in history,” Ahmadinejad said of the Israelis. “They do not even enter the equation for Iran.”
The Iranian leader, who is in New York to address the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, also rejected the suggestion that his nation fears the possibility of Israeli efforts to destroy Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities, which intelligence suggests are part of Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
“We believe the Zionists see themselves at a dead end and they want to find an adventure to get out of this dead end,” the Associated Press reported him as saying. “We are fully ready to defend ourselves. We do not take these threats seriously.”
Feinstein, asked about that possibility, told The Chronicle editorial board: “I don’t know whether Israel is going to attack or not.”
But she added: “I do know that they have rehearsed attacks, and I know what those rehearsals have been.” She said she did not get the information from intelligence but from “the former head of the Israeli defense services,” who flew a mission over a key reactor in Iraq.
“They’ve rehearsed, they’ve done paratroop drops, they’ve done civil defense training,” she said. “They’ve recalibrated the Jericho missile.”
Such efforts strongly suggest that “Iran is not Iraq,” she warned.
“Iran is strategically deep. Iran has a lot of missiles. The number is classified, but I’ve looked at them, and they’re in the hundreds,” she said. “They have mobile launchers. They have in-place launchers,” which presumably would be used “to launch missiles at Israel, initially hitting what I would assume (would be) nuclear facilities.”
Israel has “a robust interceptor system,” she said. “But the interceptor system cannot continue ad infinitum. At some point, it begins to let the missiles through.”
“The current assessment” is that Iran “will have a measured response” in the event of an Israeli attack, she said, adding that she’s “not so sure” that a response from Iran would be measured.
“So we back up Israel,” she added, “and then, dependent on how we do it — it could well be an act of war.”
Of the unrest in several nations in the region, Feinstein said, “You’ve got nine countries in the Middle East beset from within — enormous controversy, instability, the Arab spring going into an Arab winter. Nobody knows quite how it will turn out. But I believe strongly that this is when strong diplomacy really counts.”
Asked whether Obama was right to nudge former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from power, Feinstein said, “I’m not going into that. What’s done is done.”
Carla Marinucci is The San Francisco Chronicle’s senior political writer. E-mail: email@example.com Twitter: @cmarinucci
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