Israel is Believed to Have the Middle East's Only Nuclear Arsenal; the Portrayal of Iran as Irrational Could Bolster a Case for Pre-emptive Bombing to Take Out Its Atomic Facilities
May 16, 2012
The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shaprio, told a closed conference in Tel Aviv that the United States has completed preparations for a military strike on Iran. His comments were recorded by a reporter and aired on Israel’s Channel 2 TV on Wednesday night.
“It would be preferable to resolve this diplomatically, and through the use of pressure, than to use military force,” Shapiro said. “But that does not mean that option isn’t available. Not just available, it’s ready. The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it’s ready.”
Shaprio’s comments were not intended for public consumption, the Times of Israel reports.
The finalized attack plan arrives as Israel and the United States prepare for joint military exercises in the United States.
“The exercises, to be held in the coming months, will strengthen the relationship between the IAF and the US Air Force as they practice carrying out joint operations,” the Jerusalem-based online newspaper reported. “Israeli and US air defense forces are also to take part in a major joint drill later this summer in Israel to simulate a massive attack. Thousands of US soldiers are expected to arrive in Israel for the drills.”
In January, the Stars and Stripes reported that the exercise in Israel – billed as the largest ever conducted by the two countries – is not related to tensions with Iran, according to the U.S. European Command.
The long-planned exercise is “part of a routine training cycle designed to improve the interoperability of our air defense systems, and not in response to any real-world event,” said EUCOM spokesman Air Force Capt. John Ross.
“It’s a classified exercise, and we can’t release even small details about it,” Ross explained in an email to the Department of Defense newspaper.
“Austere Challenge ’12″ was originally scheduled for April, but postponed by Obama.
“U.S. participation in such an exercise, obviously geared to a scenario involving an Iranian retaliation against an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities, would have made the United States out to be a partner of Israel in any war that would follow an Israeli attack on Iran,” Gareth Porter and Jim Lobe reported in January.
“Obama and U.S. military leaders apparently decided that the United States could not participate in such an exercise so long as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to give the administration any assurance that he will not attack Iran without prior approval from Washington.”
On March 8, the Israel Insider reported that Netanyahu had struck a deal with the United States.
“The US will supply Israel with bunker-busting bombs and refueling planes in return for delaying a strike against Iran until at least the end of the year,” the website reported, citing Maariv, a Hebrew language daily newspaper published in Israel.In short, the long planned strike on Iran will occur after the November election in the United States.
April 27, 2012
The Islamic Republic of Iran said Tuesday that it has the ability to position a naval vessel within three miles of the East Coast of the United States.
“The power of our naval forces is such that we have a presence in all the waters of the world and, if needed, we can move to within three miles of New York,” Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi said Tuesday during a speech to the students of the University of Yazd in Iran.His remarks were quoted by an Iranian student news agency.
This naval saber rattling represents a stark escalation in Iran’s war rhetoric, as the West weighs the question of whether to impose new economic sanctions or directly attack the Islamic regime’s illicit nuclear facilities.
“The Americans’ only tool to rule the world is their naval dominance of the Persian Gulf,” Fadavi added, “and they will face any other power that threatens their status.”
The admiral was speaking on the anniversary of a failed April 24, 1980 U.S. military operation — dubbed “Operation Eagle Claw” — that sought to rescue American hostages held captive at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
A Pentagon official responded to Fadavi’s claim on Friday. “You should ask the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps what their plans are,” the official told The Daily Caller. “We support freedom of the seas and encourage all countries to follow international laws.”
But on Friday, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, Iran’s top air force commander, told the Fars New Agency that the Islamic republic’s military is also capable of crippling or disabling U.S. aircraft carriers.
“First, sinking an aircraft carrier is not a complicated task,” Hajizadeh said. ”Second, an aircraft carrier is equipped with so many advanced, delicate, and sensitive devices … that it could be incapacitated by even the smallest explosion.”
Although the U.S. military would likely intercept Iranian naval vessels before they could enter U.S. territorial waters, Iranian commercial vessels sailing under another country’s flag — if en route to Venezuela, for instance — could come close enough to the American shoreline to strike the U.S. Iran already possesses the capability to launch ballistic missiles from a ship.
Concerns about Iran’s nuclear-weapons ambitions make the threat of a naval incursion into U.S. waters a more pressing issue. Texas Republican Rep. Michael Conaway is promoting the Credible Military Option to Counter Iran Act, H.R. 4485, as one measure to prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb.
The bill formalizes an understood U.S. policy “to take all necessary measures, including military action if required, to prevent Iran from threatening the United States, its allies, or Iran’s neighbors with a nuclear weapon.” It also allocates more than $594 million to enhance American firepower in the Persian Gulf region in fiscal 2012 and 2013.
“Preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is among the most urgent national security challenges facing the United States,” Conaway wrote Wednesday in a “dear colleague” letter to other members of Congress. His legislation is needed, he said, “to prevent the increasingly dangerous situation in Iran from spiraling out of control.”
“My bill demonstrates to a defiant Iranian regime that the United States is prepared to take military action should they not halt their nuclear program,” Conaway told TheDC on Friday. “We must have a credible military option on the table to advance any real negotiations.”
Iranian Revolutionary Guards naval commanders said in July 2011 that they would expand their mission into the Atlantic Ocean, and that the country had equipped a number of its vessels with long-range ballistic missiles.
In September, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said Iran planned to deploy naval vessels in the Atlantic Ocean. “The Navy has a strong presence in the Caspian Sea, Persian Gulf, Sea of Oman, Indian Ocean and international waters and soon it will be present in the Atlantic Ocean,” Vahidi said.
On that same day, Rear Adm. Fadavi dismissed the idea of setting up a military hotline between U.S. and Iran. Media reports had quoted an unidentified U.S. defense official floating the idea after a series of close encounters between the countries’ forces in the Persian Gulf.
“When we go to the Gulf of Mexico,” Fadavi said, “we will establish direct communication with them.”Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym for a former CIA operative in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and the author of the award winning book ”A Time to Betray.” He teaches at the U.S. Department of Defense’s Joint Counterintelligence Training Academy (JCITA) and is a member of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security.
April 28, 2012
The former head of Israel's Shin Bet security agency has accused the country's political leaders of exaggerating the effectiveness of a possible military strike against Iran, in a striking indication of Israel's turmoil over how to deal with the Iranian nuclear program.
Yuval Diskin said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak — who have been saber-rattling for months — have their judgment clouded by "messianic feelings" and should not be trusted to lead policy on Iran. Diskin, who headed Shin Bet until last year, said a strike might actually accelerate the Iranian program.
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. Israel, like the West, believes that Tehran is developing weapons technology, but there is intense debate over whether international economic sanctions accompanying the current round of negotiations might prevent Iran from developing a bomb, or whether at some point a military strike should be launched.
Diskin's comments deepened the sense that a rift is growing between the hawkish Netanyahu government and the security establishment over the question of a strike.
In Israel, security figures carry clout well into retirement. Although they frequently pursue political careers, Diskin had been seen as relatively apolitical, perhaps lending his words even greater weight.
"I don't have faith in the current leadership of Israel to lead us to an event of this magnitude, of war with Iran," Diskin said at a public meeting Friday, video of which was posted on the Internet the next day and quickly became the lead news item in Israel.
"I do not believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on Messianic feelings," he continued. "I have seen them up close. They are not messiahs, these two, and they are not the people that I personally trust to lead Israel into an event."
Diskin said it was possible that "one of the results of an Israel attack on Iran could be a dramatic acceleration of the Iran program ... They will have legitimacy to do it more quickly and in a shorter timeframe."
Spokesmen for Netanyahu and Barak both refused comment on the issue.
Further complicating the picture is the widely held belief that Israel's threats are actually a bluff of historic proportion and that indeed they have been effective in compelling the world to boycott Iranian oil and isolate its central bank.
From that perspective, criticism such as Diskin's, based on a literal approach, could be presented as simplistic and damaging.
Israeli security officials have taken issue with the political leadership on several issues: whether sanctions will make a strike unnecessary, whether a strike will be militarily effective, and whether Israel should strike unilaterally if it cannot gain American approval.
Diskin's speech came days after the country's current top military commander, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, also seemed to disagree with the country's leadership on the likelihood that Iran will pursue a nuclear weapon.
Gantz told The Associated Press this week that Iran is seeking to develop its "military nuclear capability," but that the Islamic Republic would ultimately bow to international pressure and decide against building a weapon. The key to that pressure, he said, were sanctions and the threat of a military strike.
One of the first criticisms voiced by a security figure came last summer from Israel's recently retired spy chief Meir Dagan. He called a military strike against Iran's nuclear program "stupid." Dagan, who headed the Mossad spy agency, said an effective attack on Iran would be difficult because Iranian nuclear facilities are scattered and mobile, and warned it could trigger war.
Other senior figures with security backgrounds have questioned whether Israel should act alone, as Netanyahu insists the country has a right to do.
Last month Shaul Mofaz — a former military chief and defense minister who has since been elected head of the opposition Kadima Party — said the threats of an imminent military strike are actually weakening Israel. Mofaz, who was born in Iran and moved to Israel as a child, said Israel "is not a ghetto" and that despite its military might must fully coordinate with the U.S. on any plan to strike Iran.
Dan Halutz, who led the military from 2005 to 2007, also criticized Netanyahu last month for invoking Holocaust imagery in describing the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran.
"We are not kings of the world," Halutz said. "We should remember who we are."
A recent poll suggested the public agrees. The survey, conducted by the Israeli Dahaf agency for the University of Maryland, said 81 percent of Israelis oppose a solo attack on Iran. At the same time, it said two-thirds of Israelis would support military action if coordinated with Washington. The poll, released last week, questioned 500 Israelis and had a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points.
In a recent report the U.N. nuclear agency found Iran continues to enrich uranium — a key step toward developing a bomb. Although few in Israel would dispute that a nuclear-armed Iran is an existential threat, debate has revolved around the cost-benefit analysis of an attack.
On the cost side is the possible retaliation, in the form of Iranian missiles as well as rocket attacks by Iranian proxies Hezbollah and Hamas on its northern and southern borders. Especially daunting is the prospect of sustained missile strikes on Tel Aviv, a bustling business and entertainment capital whose populous is psychologically ill-prepared for a homefront war.
It also would likely cause oil prices to skyrocket at a time when the global economy is already struggling — risking a new recession for which Israel would absorb much if not most of the blame. Some also fear that Iran might attack American targets in response to any Israeli strike — a scenario that could directly influence the outcome of this fall's U.S. presidential election.
April 26, 2012
Israel's military chief said he does not believe Iran will decide to build an atomic bomb and called its leaders "very rational" - comments that clashed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's assessment.
Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz's remarks, in an interview published on Wednesday in the left-wing Haaretz newspaper, drew little attention in Israel on its annual remembrance day for fallen soldiers, when political discourse is suspended.
But they will add fuel to an internal debate on the prospects of Iran weaponizing its uranium enrichment program and the wisdom and risks of any Israeli military strike to try to prevent Tehran from becoming a nuclear power.
"Iran is moving step-by-step towards a point where it will be able to decide if it wants to make a nuclear bomb. It has not decided yet whether to go the extra mile," Gantz said.
But, he said, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could opt to produce nuclear weapons should he believe that Iran would not face reprisal.
"In my opinion, he will be making a huge mistake if he does that and I don't think he will want to go the extra mile," Gantz said.
"I think the Iranian leadership is comprised of very rational people. But I agree that such a capability in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, who at some moments may make different calculations, is a dangerous thing."
Israel, believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, has not ruled out military action against Iran should economic sanctions fail to curb its nuclear program, saying all options were on the table.
Last week, in a speech during Israel's Holocaust remembrance day, Netanyahu said:
"Today, the regime in Iran openly calls and determinedly works for our destruction. And it is feverishly working to develop atomic weapons to achieve that goal."
Tehran denies seeking the bomb, saying it is enriching uranium only for peaceful energy purposes and that its nuclear program is a threat to no one.
Speaking on CNN on Tuesday, Netanyahu said he would not want to bet "the security of the world on Iran's rational behavior."
A "militant Islamic regime", he said, "can put their ideology before their survival."
The portrayal of Iran as irrational - willing to attack Israel with a nuclear weapon even if it means the destruction of the Islamic Republic in retaliatory strikes - could bolster a case for pre-emptive bombing to take out its atomic facilities.
Netanyahu had already been stung at home by his former spymaster, Meir Dagan, who said that such an Israeli strike on Iran would be a "ridiculous" idea.
Shannon Kile, a nuclear proliferation expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said Gantz's description of Iranian leaders as rational was "quite an interesting turnabout."
"Hopefully, it is going to reduce the incentives for any sort of pre-emptive or preventive military action, at least for the time being," Kile said.
The United States has also not ruled out military action as a last resort. But many allies of Washington, and even some senior U.S. officials, fear such an attack could ignite a broader war and only temporarily halt Iran's nuclear advances.
Gantz's assessment appeared to be in step with the view of the top U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey. He said in a CNN interview in February he believed Iran was a "rational actor" and it would be premature to take military action against it.
Israeli political sources said at the time that the remarks by Dempsey - who also suggested Israel's armed forces could not deliver lasting damage to Iranian nuclear sites - had angered Netanyahu.
A diplomat who tracks Iran carefully said Gantz's comments might aim to tilt Israeli opinion away from a strike.
"I would see it as push-back or maybe something preventive," he said, saying the assessment "flies in the face" of Netanyahu's views.
"What he said ... (is) consistent with the views of the U.S. military leadership, the U.S. intelligence community," said Carnegie Endowment for International Peace analyst George Perkovich. "What's interesting is why he said it out loud."
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak raised international concern about a possible Israeli strike several months ago when he spoke about time running out for effective Israeli military action against Iranian nuclear sites buried deep underground.
Netanyahu, while noting that Iran has made no apparent decision to begin constructing a bomb, has voiced impatience with the pace of nuclear talks that began this month between Tehran and six world powers, the first such negotiations in more than a year.
"Either Iran takes its nuclear program to a civilian footing only, or the world, perhaps us too, will have to do something. We're closer to the end of the discussions than the middle," Gantz said.
However, he also said international pressure on Iran "is beginning to bear fruit, both on the diplomatic level and on the economic sanctions level."
Netanyahu said on CNN the sanctions were "certainly taking a bite out of the Iranian economy but so far they haven't rolled back the Iranian program or even stopped it by one iota.
"Unfortunately, that's not achieved by talks in which Iran has one goal, to stall, delay, run out the clock; that's basically what they're doing."
Gantz, a former paratrooper who has served as Israel's military attaché in Washington, was asked in the Haaretz interview what impact his view would have on government decision-making on Iran.
"Whatever weight the government decides to ascribe it," he said.
"I say my opinion according to my own professional truth and my strategic analysis. I will say it sharply: I do not forget my professional ethics. The government will decide after it hears the professional echelon and the army will carry out, in a faithful and determined manner, any decision that is made."
Kile said he was surprised Gantz had spoken out, "because normally the Israeli military leadership on the nuclear issue has been quite subdued," with former intelligence officials "coming out and trying to cool ... the possible Israeli impetus towards military action."
Gantz took over as chief of staff a year ago but has been less outspoken on strategic issues than his predecessor, Gabi Ashkenazi. He was not the first choice for the job. The preferred candidate, Yoav Gallant, had to bow out because of a property scandal.
In at least one turning point in Israeli history, the government chose to ignore a strong warning from the military's top general about the intentions of a longtime adversary.
In 1977, then-chief of staff Mordechai Gur famously cautioned the Cabinet that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's offer to visit Jerusalem could be a smokescreen for war preparations. Sadat's trip led to a peace treaty in 1979.
April 26, 2012
Israel's military chief said Thursday that other countries have readied their armed forces for a potential strike against Iran's nuclear sites to keep Tehran from acquiring atomic weapons.
Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz did not specify which nations might be willing to support or take direct action against Iran. Still, his comments were one of the strongest hints yet that Israel may have the backing of other countries to strike the Islamic Republic to prevent it from developing nuclear arms.
"The military force is ready," Gantz said. "Not only our forces, but other forces as well."
"We all hope that there will be no necessity to use this force, but we are absolutely sure of its existence," he told The Associated Press, adding that he was not speaking on behalf of any other nation.
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, and that it does not aim to develop atomic weapons.
Israel, which views a nuclear Iran as an existential threat, has said it will not allow Tehran to acquire a nuclear bomb. It cites Iranian calls for Israel's destruction, Tehran's support for militant groups and its development of missiles capable of striking the Jewish state.
Israel's key ally, the United States, favors diplomacy and economic sanctions and has said military action on Iran's nuclear facilities should only be a last resort if all else fails. U.S. logistical and diplomatic support would likely be crucial to any potential Israeli strike.
Washington and other major powers have imposed a series of crippling economic sanctions while opening a dialogue with Iran.
Gantz said that in his assessment Iran is seeking to develop its "military nuclear capability," but that the Islamic Republic would ultimately bow to international pressure and decide against building a weapon.
The key to that pressure, he said, were sanctions and the threat of a military strike.
Gantz's stance on Iran's intentions appeared to put him at odds with Israel's political leaders, who have staked out a more hardline position. Gantz denied that was the case Thursday, saying there was no internal disagreement over Iran's aims.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CNN on Tuesday that international sanctions have not changed Iran's behavior, and that the country continues to enrich uranium — a key step toward developing a weapon.
The sanctions "haven't rolled back the Iranian program or even stopped it by one iota," Netanyahu said.
April 19, 2012
Iran's semiofficial Fars news agency says Russia and China have asked Tehran to provide them with information on a U.S. drone captured by the Islamic Republic in December.
The Thursday report quotes Ahmad Karimpour, an adviser to Iran's defense minister, as saying Tehran has received requests for many countries for information on the RQ-170 Sentinel, but Moscow and Beijing have been most aggressive in their pursuit of details on the drone. He did not elaborate.
Iran said in December that it had downed the unmanned stealth aircraft in eastern Iran.
U.S. officials have acknowledged losing the drone. They have said Iran will find it hard to exploit any data and technology aboard it because of measures taken to limit the intelligence value of drones operating over hostile territory.