06/16/2008 12:00 AM
Israeli Ministers Mull Plans for Military Strike against Iran
By Ralf Beste, Cordula Meyer and Christoph Schult
The Israeli government no longer believes that sanctions can prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons. A broad consensus in favor of a military strike against Tehran's nuclear facilities — without the Americans, if necessary — is beginning to take shape.
"We no longer believe in the effectiveness of sanctions," says Yatom. "A military operation is needed if the world wants to stop Iran."
When Israeli Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, a former defense minister, expressed similar sentiments 10 days ago, they were viewed, especially in Europe, as the isolated opinions of a card-carrying hardliner seeking to score points with the electorate in a bid to succeed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In truth, however, there is now a consensus within the Israeli government that an air strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities has become unavoidable. ...
... The hawks, on the other hand, believe time is running out. They stress that there is now a "favorable window of opportunity" that will close with the US presidential election in November, and that Israel can only depend on American support for as long as current US President George W. Bush is still in charge in Washington. They are convinced that the country cannot truly depend on any of the candidates to succeed Bush in office. ...
All experts agree that the Iranian bomb doesn't yet exist. Nevertheless, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to threaten the Jewish state with destruction at every opportunity. "If the enemy thinks they can break the Iranian nation with pressure, they are wrong," he said last week. [Hardly a threat of a first strike; only retaliation]
... It is believed that an estimated 100 to 200 nuclear warheads have been produced at the Dimona reactor in the Negev Desert. Israeli historian Benny Morris, who is not normally considered a hardliner, recently suggested using the weapons: "If the issue is whether Israel or Iran should perish, then Iran should perish."
In reaching this conclusion, the Israelis are expressly contradicting the assertion, put forward in a report by US intelligence issued last December, that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003. "The Iranians resumed the program at full speed in 2005," says Yossi Kuperwasser, the director for intelligence analysis with Israeli military intelligence at the time. [Where's the proof?]
Politicians in Berlin have noted with concern signs of the next war brewing in the Middle East. Former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who travels regularly to Jerusalem and Washington for political talks, warns that Israel could see the Bush presidency as its last chance to gain American support for a military strike. "Politically speaking, the window for action is now, in the last months of George W. Bush's term in office," Fischer wrote recently. "The Middle East is headed for another major confrontation."
...Riedel sees an Israeli military strike, with the US government's consent, as the most likely attack scenario. But the consequences, according to Riedel, would not differ from those of an American attack. "An Israeli attack will be seen as a US attack. Iran will retaliate against both Israel and the US." The consequences, says Riedel, would be fatal. "We will see a Middle East in flames."
Nevertheless, in Israel it is no longer a matter of whether there will be a military strike, but when. It is clear that the attack would be exclusively an aerial strike. Jerusalem recently received approval from Washington for a purchase of F-22 stealth bombers. ...
And the Iranian air defenses? "We know that Iran's air defenses are not among the world's best," says former Mossad chief Yatom. "They can be overcome." Nevertheless, many Israelis still hope that the Americans will do the job for them. "It could still be the case," says Yatom, "that George W. Bush wants to guarantee himself a place in the history books with this last act."
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