Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Strike on Iran likely

WASHINGTON — Israel carried out a major military exercise earlier this month that American officials say appeared to be a rehearsal for a potential bombing attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Several American officials said the Israeli exercise appeared to be an effort to develop the military’s capacity to carry out long-range strikes and to demonstrate the seriousness with which Israel views Iran’s nuclear program.
More than 100 Israeli F-16 and F-15 fighters participated in the maneuvers, which were carried out over the eastern Mediterranean and over Greece during the first week of June, American officials said.
The exercise also included Israeli helicopters that could be used to rescue downed pilots. The helicopters and refueling tankers flew more than 900 miles, which is about the same distance between Israel and Iran’s uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, American officials said.
Israeli officials declined to discuss the details of the exercise. A spokesman for the Israeli military would say only that the country’s air force “regularly trains for various missions in order to confront and meet the challenges posed by the threats facing Israel.”
But the scope of the Israeli exercise virtually guaranteed that it would be noticed by American and other foreign intelligence agencies. A senior Pentagon official who has been briefed on the exercise, and who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the political delicacy of the matter, said the exercise appeared to serve multiple purposes.
One Israeli goal, the Pentagon official said, was to practice flight tactics, aerial refueling and all other details of a possible strike against Iran’s nuclear installations and its long-range conventional missiles.
A second, the official said, was to send a clear message to the United States and other countries that Israel was prepared to act militarily if diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from producing bomb-grade uranium continued to falter.
“They wanted us to know, they wanted the Europeans to know, and they wanted the Iranians to know,” the Pentagon official said. “There’s a lot of signaling going on at different levels.”
Several American officials said they did not believe that the Israeli government had concluded that it must attack Iran and did not think that such a strike was imminent
One of the long-running debates here in Jerusalem is whether or not the US and Israel are preparing the ground for a military strike on Iran.
There is vast disagreement here on this issue - and there are no easy answers.
But wheels are in motion.
As McClatchy reported last week, Israel has been laying the psychological foundations for a strike on Iran.
While this doesn't mean that an Israeli strike on Iran is imminent, it does show that Israel's warnings are not simply Pyhrric saber rattling.
"It should not surprise anyone that we are training and preparing operationally for this, and it should not in any way be interpreted as we're going to strike Iran," Israeli analyst Yossi Alpher of Bitterlemons told me this morning.
Maybe not.
But plans are cleary being fine-tuned.
What remains to be seen is what impact these actions will have on the diplomatic moves to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The Israeli threats and military training may all be part of an effort to compel Europe, the US and the IAEA to treat the Iranian nuclear issue with more urgency.

1 comment:

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