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Israel Considering Strike on Iran: Sabre-rattling Or the Real Thing?

Posted on the 03 November 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
Israel considering strike on Iran: Sabre-rattling or the real thing?

Natanz nuclear facility in Iran. Photo credit: Hamed Saber

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is reportedly pushing for a military strike against Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons programme, claiming that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a “dire threat” to the world and particularly Israel. Israeli military top brass, excepting Defence Minister Ehud Barak, the country’s intelligence community, and enough of the Cabinet, however, are aligned against the plan, prompting some to wonder whether this round of sabre-rattling is a genuine prelude to war or just an attempt to goad the rest of the world into action.

The West has long suspected that Iran is harbouring a nuclear weapons development programme, while the Islamic Republic maintains that it only wants nuclear capability for peaceful purposes. The Press Association reported that Netanyahu’s increasingly tough stance on Iran comes as the International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to release its report on the Iranian nuclear programme later this month. That report, The Daily Telegraph reported, “will add a substantial layer to seven years of investigations that is likely to inflame tensions in the Middle East” – though the report is unlikely to definitely conclude that Iran is making nuclear weapons, Western officials believe that the facts will make any other conclusion untenable.

Rumours of an Israeli attack also coincide, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported, with several major military drills, including the reported test-firing of a ballistic missile system that could carry a nuclear warhead to Iran.

Iran has responded sharply to reports of a brewing Israeli attack: The Chairman of Iran’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi told the Iranian Students News Agency, “The US officials know that Zionist regime’s military attack against Iran will inflict heavy damages to the US seriously as well as Zionist regime.” Other reports quote Firouzabadi as saying that both the US and Israel would be “severely punished” for such a strike.

Israel not alone in prepping for an attack on Iran. British armed forces are reportedly stepping up plans for a military strike against Iran as both concern about Iran’s nuclear programme mounts and the possibility of a US-led attack becomes more real, The Guardian reported. The Ministry of Defence has made it clear that should the US ask for it, Britain would provide back-up in an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites. According to the paper, Whitehall officials are saying that now that Col. Muammar Gaddafi is dead, Libya can once again occupy a backburner – meaning they can refocus attention on Iran. Still, the paper acknowledged, US President Barack Obama is unlikely to mount an attack against Iran before the 2012 elections. That said, the upcoming IAEA report is also bringing Iran back into focus: Con Coughlin noted in The Daily Telegraph, “Publication of the IAEA report will intensify the pressure on President Barack Obama, who previously has worked hard to bring Iran back to the negotiating table, to take a more robust approach to the threat Tehran’s nuclear ambitions pose to the stability of the Gulf and the wider Middle East, including Israel.”

Israelis split on attack proposition. According to a poll conducted by Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Israelis are evenly divided on whether to attack Iran’s nuclear programme, with 41 percent in favour of a strike and 39 percent opposed, with 20 percent undecided.

Israeli defence says military drills not related to attack on Iran. Israeli defence officials stressed that the flurry of military drills and tests that attending rumours of an Israeli attack on Iran were planned months in advance and were in no way related, Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer reported. “Nevertheless,” he added, “it’s hard to view the proximity of all these events as strictly accidental.”

Good news: Israel isn’t like the US. Netanyahu and Barak’s efforts to convince the cabinet to make a strike on Iran are being effectively countered by Israel’s military and intelligence communities – something that didn’t happen in the US in the run-up to the Iraq War, Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast claimed. “In 2002 and 2003, many in the U.S. military and intelligence agencies opposed invading Iraq, but they were either silenced or ignored,” he wrote, noting that Netanyahu, like President George W. Bush, is a leader “prone to apocalyptic interpretations of foreign threats”. But the Israeli system of political checks appears to be keeping the country from rushing headlong into a costly war, unlike the US’s system.

So will Israel attack Iran? Israel is unlikely to attack without American support, which is equally unlikely to be forthcoming in the near future, Jackson Diehl at The Wasshington Post’s Post Partisan blog declared. But Israel has other reasons for enabling speculation that it would strike: “It refocuses attention on the Iranian threat, and takes it away from the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations; it raises the pressure on the United States and its allies to increase sanctions and other nonmilitary pressure on Tehran.” Moreover, he added, “All the smoke also helps to obscure Israel’s real intentions. After so many cries of ‘Wolf!,’ it seems fairly probable that when Israel really does prepare to attack, no one will believe the press leaks. That includes now.”

It’s a war of nerves now. Ultimately, wrote Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff in Haaretz, “What’s happening now between Jerusalem and Tehran is a war of signals and public threats. But it’s the way the declarations are translated into actions at the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Security Council, and in Western capitals, that will dictate developments in the coming weeks.” The only thing to do is wait and see.

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