Thursday, August 07, 2008

Israel Flexes Military Option for Iran's Nuclear Program

Israel flexes military option for Iran's nuclear program

Buildup comes as diplomatic push to halt nukes suffers

August 7, 2008

JERUSALEM -- Israel is building up its strike capabilities amid growing anxiety over Iran's nuclear ambitions and appears confident that a military attack would cripple Tehran's atomic program, even if it can't destroy it.

Such preparation could be more a threat than an indication of an imminent attack. However, Iran's refusal to stop work on its nuclear program is worrying Israel, as is the perception that the U.S. government now prefers diplomacy over confrontation with Iran.

Israel has purchased 90 F-16I fighter planes that can carry enough fuel to reach Iran and will receive 11 more by the end of next year. It has bought two new Dolphin submarines from Germany capable of firing nuclear-armed warheads -- in addition to the three it already has.

And this summer it carried out air maneuvers in the Mediterranean that touched off an international debate over whether they were a dress rehearsal for an attack, a stern warning to Iran or a just a way to get allies to step up the pressure on Tehran to stop building nukes.

According to foreign media reports, Israeli intelligence is active inside Iranian territory. Israel's military censor, who can impose a range of legal sanctions against journalists operating in the country, does not permit publication of details of such information in news reports written from Israel.

The issue of Iran's nuclear program took on new urgency this week after U.S. officials rejected Tehran's response to an incentives package aimed at getting it to stop sensitive nuclear activity -- setting the stage for a fourth round of international sanctions against the country.

Israel, itself an undeclared nuclear power, sees an atomic bomb in Iranian hands as a direct threat to its existence.

Israel believes Tehran will have enriched enough uranium for a nuclear bomb by 2010. The United States has trimmed its estimate that Iran is several years or as much as a decade away from being able to field a bomb but has not been precise about a timetable. In general, U.S. officials say Iran isn't as close to a bomb as Israel claims, but they are concerned that Iran is working faster than anticipated to add centrifuges, the workhorses of uranium enrichment.

"If Israeli, U.S. or European intelligence gets proof that Iran has succeeded in developing nuclear weapons technology, then Israel will respond in a manner reflecting the existential threat posed by such a weapon," said Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, speaking at a policy forum in Washington last week.

"Israel takes Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statements regarding its destruction seriously," Mofaz said, referring to the Iranian president. "Israel cannot risk another Holocaust."

Ahmadinejad in the past has called for Israel's elimination, though his exact remarks have been disputed. Some translators say he called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," while others say a better translation would be "vanish from the pages of time" -- implying Israel would disappear on its own rather than be destroyed.

Iran insists its uranium enrichment is meant only for electricity generation, not a bomb -- an assertion that most Western nations see as disingenuous.

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