Saturday, June 21, 2008

Iran attack: Might happen

Last update - 10:19 22/06/2008       
ANALYSIS / Is Israel capable of extinguishing Iran's nuclear aspirations?
By Amos Harel
Even though the New York Times story on June 19 about a large-scale air force exercise in the eastern Mediterranean was received from a source in Washington, not Jerusalem, it seems to have been in line with Israel's aims. Unlike the storm that the threats of Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz stirred two weeks ago, the report that the Israel Air Force (IAF) carried out a large scale exercise as part of its preparation for a scenario requiring the targetting of Iran's nuclear facilities, the message was received clearly.
According to the senior Pentagon official quoted in the New York Times report "they [the Israelis] wanted us to know, they wanted the Europeans to know, and they wanted the Iranians to know."
There is little new in the fact that the IAF is preparing for the Iranian challenge. About six months ago, Channel 2 reported a similar exercise covering a radius that an operation against Iran would require. At the time the report received little attention, but in view of the price of crude oil, every report of this sort makes the tickers jump. Moreover, the IDF spokesman did not deny Friday's report.
If one followed the series of interviews that outgoing IAF chief Major General Eliezer Shkedi offered more than a month ago, the trend was obvious. Shkedi emphasized the force's readiness for "any challenge" and called on the media not to drop their daily focus on the Iranian threat. The former air force chief was without doubt the hawk at the General Staff in anything to do with dealing with Iran, but one must not forget that he was also the person assigned the task of preparing the operational planning.
The defense establishment assessment as of June 2008 is that in 1.5 to two years Iran will cross the technological threshold enabling Tehran to develop nuclear weapons. Contrary to last December's U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, Israel's assessment is that Tehran has not ceased its nuclear weapons program.
There is still the possibility of an American attack on Iran, but in light of the NIE report that is not highly likely. The U.S. position may change dramatically if they have an undisputed 'smoking gun' regarding Tehran's intentions.
However, there is another question that needs to be raised: What are the IAF capabilities in carrying out the kind of operation necessary against Iran's nuclear installations, its professionalism notwithstanding? Western military experts are divided over its ability to target the dispersed Iranian nuclear infrastructure, in dozens of installations, some buried deep underground. But Israel's effort would not be to completely destroy Iran's nuclear complex - blocking its progress for a period of time may be a significant achievement in itself.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed during his passover interviews that Iran will not turn nuclear. This was not a random, thoughtless slip of the tongue. If in Jerusalem they were seriously thinking that it is necessary to get used to a nuclear balance of terror, we would have heard them lauding the rational regime that sits in Tehran.

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