December 18, 2009

Israeli-Iranian Conflict

2010: A Year of Decision for Israel on Iran

December 18, 2009

... Maj. Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, a former head of the National Security Council, said this week that in his view, Israel will have to decide in the year ahead whether to attack or not.
"The question of a decision on attacking Iran's nuclear capability is liable to be very much not theoretical but very practical in 2010," Eiland said at the same conference at which Yadlin spoke.
According to Eiland, an Israeli attack will be feasible only in the event that a crisis occurs in nuclear-related talks between Iran and the great powers, followed by a cessation of negotiations altogether and the failure by the United States to cobble together an international coalition against the Iranians.

Another retired major general, Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel, who was a Kadima MK in the previous Knesset and advised Olmert on security affairs, noted at the same conference:
"If there is no choice, Israel can set back the Iranian nuclear process."
Iran can be expected to retaliate against such an attack with Shihab missiles. Ben-Israel, who specialized in operations research in the air force and took part in planning the attack on the Iraqi reactor in 1981, estimated that Israel would be hit by about 80 Iranian missiles - twice the number that Saddam Hussein fired at Tel Aviv, Haifa and Dimona during the 1991 Gulf War. According to Ben-Israel, the Iranians would also make use of Hezbollah, which serves them to deter Israel from attacking their nuclear facilities:
"Hezbollah has more missiles than it had during the Second Lebanon War, but the number of missiles that will be fired at Israel will not be much larger than it was then." (In 2006, some 4,200 Hezbollah missiles and rockets struck Israel, killing 54 people.)
Even if Obama agrees to an Israeli attack, the real dilemma that will confront Netanyahu, his colleagues in the forum of seven and the heads of the army and intelligence, will lie in assessing the benefits vs. the damage. Israel will survive an Iranian missile attack and a rain of rockets from Lebanon. But an attack also carries strategic costs, which will only be aggravated if the operation against Iran does not succeed: Israel will be denounced as a militant and aggressive state, the price of oil will soar, America and its allies in the gulf are liable to be adversely affected - and worst of all, Iran will be perceived as the victim of Israeli aggression and will obtain international legitimization to renew the devastated nuclear project. Israel will also have to gamble on whether Syrian President Bashar Assad will join the war on the side of Iran, or will follow custom and sit on the sidelines.

Another critical question in this discussion concerns the deployment on the Israeli home front. In the wake of the Second Lebanon War, the political and military echelons understand how exposed the civilian population is to a massive missile and rocket attack. The summer of 2010 has already been earmarked by the IDF as an in-principle target date for completion of repairs on essential lacunae. But despite the massive media coverage given to the multilayer defense system against missiles, it is worth recalling that most of its components still exist only on paper. In every scenario of warfare projected for the years ahead, many more missiles will be fired at Israel than can be intercepted by its anti-missile system.

In the face of all the risks and damage, what will Israel gain from an attack? A three- to five-year delay in the manufacture of the Iranian bomb, according to the optimistic estimate. Is that worth the certain price that will be paid and the risk entailed in a complicated air mission so far from home? Do Netanyahu and Barak have what it takes to make that decision? It's not certain.

And these doubts lead the experts to assess that Israel will agonize and will talk about a strike, but will do nothing. In their view, it is more reasonable that the U.S. and Iran will continue their dialogue, with "controllable" crises erupting from time to time. As long as Obama sees to it that Israel does not feel isolated and abandoned in the face of the Iranian threat, Netanyahu will not dare attack.

Understanding this, Obama dispatched 1,500 soldiers to Israel for a missile-defense exercise about two months ago, and he continues to operate the sophisticated warning radar that Bush stationed in the Negev. The president prefers to reassure Israel on the Iranian front and exact concessions from Netanyahu on the Palestinian front.

The question that is apparently not now under discussion between Jerusalem and Washington is the stage at which Iran will agree to stop its nuclear project under international pressure. Will this be a case of Iranian nuclear brinkmanship, with Tehran just a decision away from a bomb, or will Iran gamble and go the whole way? Even then, it's likely there will be enough experts in the administration and in American research institutes who will recommend that Israel take a deep breath and adapt to the new situation. In other words, learn how to stop worrying and love the bomb.

Despite the experts' assessments -- and as MI head Yadlin hinted this week -- no scenario promises that the year ahead will be quiet and tranquil. Most of the wars in the past broke out by surprise, because of mistaken risk assessments or seemingly irrevocable political commitments. The same could happen between Israel and Iran.

Prof. Yehoshafat Harkabi was director of Military Intelligence in the second half of the 1950s. Some officers in the present General Staff continue to view his books, notably "Israel's Fateful Hour" and "Nuclear War and Nuclear Peace," as relevant guidelines even today.

"What is special about our situation in Israel is that we cannot allow ourselves a process of learning by trial and error," Harkabi wrote in 1986 in the last chapter of "Israel's Fateful Hour." "We cannot allow ourselves the calamities of mistaken policy, lest we are unable to turn around and start over. Our great weakness is that it is very doubtful whether we will be able to backtrack from the wrong path ... Many countries can adopt foolish policies and will suffer accordingly, but without experiencing any great ill, whereas we are permitted only narrow margins of error" [unofficial translation].
Harkabi quotes the British military historian Basil Liddell-Hart:
"An important difference between a military operation and a surgical operation is that the patient is not tied down. But it is a common fault of generalship to assume that he is."

Iran: New Centrifuges Being Developed

Associated Press
December 18, 2009

Iran's nuclear chief said Friday the country has started making more efficient centrifuge models that it plans to put in use by early 2011 - a statement that underscores Teheran's defiance and adds to international concerns over its nuclear ambitions.

The official, Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi, said Iranian scientists are still testing the more advanced models before they will become operational at the country's enrichment facilities.

Teheran has been saying since April that it is building more advanced centrifuges capable of enriching uranium with higher efficiency and precision, but Salehi's remarks were the first indication of a timeline when the new models could become operational.

The new centrifuge models will be able to enrich uranium much faster than the old ones; some experts estimate that this next generation could double or even triple the rate of uranium production.

Such a development would add to growing concerns in the West because they would allow Teheran to accelerate the pace of its program. That would mean Iran could amass more material in a shorter space of time that could be turned into the fissile core of missiles, should Teheran choose to do so.

Iran's uranium enrichment is a major concern to the international community, worried that the program masks efforts to make a nuclear weapon. Teheran insists its enrichment work is peaceful and only meant to generate electricity, not make an atomic bomb.

Iran has threatened to expand its enrichment program tenfold, even while rejecting a plan brokered by the UN nuclear watchdog agency to supply fuel for Iran's research reactor if Teheran exports most of its enriched stockpile. The UN plan would leave Iran - at least temporarily - without enough uranium to produce a bomb.

Centrifuges are machines used to enrich uranium - a technology that can produce fuel for power plants or materials for a nuclear weapon. Uranium enriched to low level is used to produce fuel but further enrichment makes it suitable for use in building nuclear arms.
"We are currently producing new generation of centrifuges named IR3 and IR4," Salehi told the semiofficial Fars news agency. "We hope to use them by early 2011 after resolving problems and defects."
He did not elaborate on the technical details or the difference between various centrifuge types.

However, Salehi added:
"We are not in a rush to enter the industrial-scale production stage."
The new centrifuges would likely replace the decades-old P-1 centrifuges, once acquired on the black market and in use at Iran's main uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, central Iran.

Iran has said the new centrifuges would also be installed at Iran's recently revealed secret uranium enrichment facility. The plant is still under construction at Fordo, near the holy city of Qom.

Salehi said that more than 6,000 centrifuges are currently enriching uranium - 2,000 more than the figure mentioned in a November report by the UN watchdog, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.

The IAEA has reported that it is watching Iran's efforts to improve its centrifuges.

Iran says it will install more than 50,000 centrifuges at Natanz, but currently they have installed fewer than 9,000, so there could easily be room for more advanced models in the future, a Vienna nuclear expert said. The expert spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Iranian officials have claimed that most parts for the new centrifuges are made domestically and others have been imported -- a sign that Iran was able to get around UN sanctions imposed on the country for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.

Iran's defiance has not wavered amid recent signals of possible more UN sanctions over its enrichment. Salehi said Friday such new sanctions won't stop Iran from developing its nuclear program.
"We don't welcome new (UN Security Council) resolutions," he told ISNA, another semiofficial news agency. "But resolutions won't stop us in any field, including the nuclear."

Netanyahu Must Decide Whether to Strike Iran’s Nuclear Facilities

The Times
December 14, 2009

The moment is fast approaching when Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, may have to make the most difficult decision of his career — whether to launch a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities and risk triggering a conflagration that could spread across the Middle East.

Israeli experts believe the point of no return may be only six months away when Iran’s nuclear programme will have — if it has not already — metastasised into a multitude of smaller, difficult-to-trace facilities in deserts and mountains, while its main reactor at Bushehr will have come online and bombing it would send a radioactive cloud over the Gulf nations.

Mr Netanyahu has consistently called Iran the most serious threat Israel faces. President Ahmadinejad of Iran has called for Israel to be obliterated and his Revolutionary Guards supply training, money and weapons to both Hezbollah in Lebanon, on Israel’s northern border, and to Hamas in the Gaza Strip, whose missiles are believed to be capable of reaching Tel Aviv.

In the run-up to his election this year, Mr Netanyahu promised that “under my Government, Iran will not be allowed to go nuclear.” Yet Mr Ahmadinejad has promised to produce 20 per cent enriched uranium: a big step towards weapons-grade fuel.

With the Iranian threat at the front of his strategic thinking, Mr Netanyahu has surrounded himself with old comrades from Israel’s most prestigious military unit, the Sayeret Matkal, or General Staff Reconnaissance. Mr Netanyahu served in the elite unit in the 1970s under Ehud Barak, who went on to become Israel’s most decorated soldier and later Prime Minister in his own right.

When Mr Netanyahu came to power, he made great efforts to recruit his former commander as Defence Minister. Mr Barak serves with another former leader of the unit, the Deputy Prime Minister, Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon. The Israeli Prime Minister has hard-wired his core Cabinet with so much military experience for a good reason. Striking Iran’s nuclear facilities would be a huge military and political gamble. Although Russia has delayed supplying Iran with S300 anti-aircraft missiles, which could weaken any Israeli attack, the air force would have to mount one of its largest long-range attacks to have a chance of disabling Iran’s nuclear installations.

Earlier this year a report by Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, warned that “a military strike by Israel against Iranian nuclear facilities is possible . . . (but) would be complex and high-risk and would lack any assurances that the overall mission will have a high success rate.”

At roughly the same time, Leon Panetta, the head of the CIA, went on a covert visit to Israel to seek assurances that the new Government would not surprise the Obama Administration with a sudden unilateral attack.

In 2007, in what is often seen as a trial run for an attack on Iran, an Israeli squadron flew undetected through Turkish airspace and over Syria’s unprotected border to destroy what was thought to be a nuclear facility under construction with Iranian and North Korean support.

In June 2008, the air force staged exercises over the Mediterranean, with dozens of fighters, bombers and refuelling tankers flying roughly the same distance as between Israel and Iran. Earlier this year, Israeli jets again carried out a long-range bombing mission, hitting trucks in Sudan that were believed to be bringing Iranian weapons to Hamas via Egypt.

In the immediate term, the threat of a strike has receded. Israel is satisfied that Iran’s hostile stance towards the international community has increased the chances of serious, crippling sanctions. Officials noted that for the first time Russia seemed to be serious about isolating Tehran.

But that international front could easily crack, and then Mr Netanyahu would be faced with the decision on whether to order his bombers into action. Iran has already threatened to bomb Israel’s cities with its long-range missiles should its nuclear facilities come under attack.

It could also, in stages, order Hezbollah to launch rockets across the northern border. The attack could come in conjunction with a Hamas assault from the Gaza Strip.

Alternatively both sides may choose to do nothing. Some analysts believe that Israel might tolerate Iran as a “threshold nuclear state”, capable of building a bomb but not testing it.

Iran could opt for the path chosen by Syria in 2007, if Israel strikes at isolated facilities miles from an urban areas, where the only casualties would be technicians and guards. After the strike against Syria, neither side admitted what had happened, thereby avoiding a war and saving face.

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