Thursday, 3 November 2011

U.K.And Israel May Be Preparing For Military Strike On Iran's Nuclear Facilities

U.K. is stepping up its preparations for a military strike on Iran, the Guardian newspaper reported on Wednesday. According to the report, the U.K. is increasingly concerned over Tehran's nuclear program, and is preparing to deploy Royal Navy ships in the coming months to assist a possible U.S. attack on key facilities in Iran.

The paper cited senior officials who said they believed Iran had regained its technological capabilities which were severely damaged in a cyber-attack last year. Iran said the Stuxnet worm infected personal computers of employees at the Bushehr plant, but not the plant's main systems. The New York Times reported last January that the worm was a joint Israeli-U.S. effort to undermine Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Iran's military chief warned Wednesday that an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear development sites will come at a heavy price, according to the Iranian ISNA news agency.

Responding to reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been trying to gain a majority in the cabinet for an attack on Iran, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of Iran's armed forces, Hassan Firouzabadi, warned both Israel and the U.S. against such a move.

"The U.S. officials know that the Zionist regime's military attack against Iran will inflict heavy damages to the U.S. seriously as well as the Zionist regime," ISNA quoted Firouzabadi.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland commented on the possible Israeli strike against Iran on Wednesday, saying "I'm not going to comment on stray press reports out of Israel. I'm going to send you to the Israeli government for its views on these things.”

“We remain committed to Israel's security. We and Israel share a deep concern about the direction that Iran is taking,” she added.

“We continue to work with Israel, with the international community to speak clearly with regard to Iran's nuclear obligations. And you know where we are on this, that Iran has got to take the necessary steps established by the international community to come back into compliance with its obligations. We are focused with Israel; we are focused with our other international partners on getting Iran to comply with the IAEA, to increase the international pressure for Iran to comply. And that's the focus of our activity," she said.

A disagreement within the Israeli government over whether to attack Iran's nuclear facilities has sparked a political catfight between two members of the "octet" forum of eight senior ministers: Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Associates of Ya'alon charge that Barak is behind the recent spate of media reports about the octet's deliberations on Iran, while Barak's associates charge that Ya'alon's judgment is becoming unbalanced.

One minister who belongs to the octet said that, at the forum's meetings, Ya'alon and Barak presented diametrically opposed views: Barak supported an Israeli military strike on Iran and said it should take place as soon as possible, while Ya'alon argued that Israel should give international sanctions on Iran more time, and that if military action did become necessary, it would be better for America to do it. Under no circumstances should Israel conduct such an operation on its own, Ya'alon said.

The tension between Barak and Ya'alon has been exacerbated by a string of media reports over the last week concerning efforts by Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to muster a majority in the octet for attacking Iran. This tension was already high due to several substantive policy disagreements - not only on Iran, but also on relations with Turkey and the Palestinians. Moreover, there is lingering bad feeling because when the government was first established in 2009, Ya'alon had expected Netanyahu to make him defense minister.

In recent days, Ya'alon and his associates have voiced scathing criticism of Barak in closed forums, even accusing him of being behind the media reports on the possibility of Israel attacking Iran. Barak, according to their claims, briefed journalists on the matter and tried to convince them that such a strike was necessary.

Ya'alon's associates also claim that even though Barak acts as if he supports military action against Iran, in reality, he opposes it. His statements in favor of military action are aimed merely at shoring up his position as one of Netanyahu's closest allies, they charge.

"For Netanyahu, the Iranian issue is the most important thing," said an associate of Ya'alon. "Barak knows this, and therefore he expresses support for military action in order to bolster his status within the government in Netanyahu's eyes. It's all spin."

Barak's associates reacted furiously to these charges and promptly counterattacked.

"Minister Ya'alon's frustrations are unbalancing his mind and his judgment," said one. "He who once warned of vipers in the Kirya [Defense Ministry headquarters] should be told: 'You see the mote in your brother's eye, but not the beam in your own.' Minister Ya'alon ought to behave responsibly, like ministers [Benny] Begin and [Dan] Meridor."

It is important to note that the drills and tests of recent days, and those expected to take place in the coming days, were all planned months ago.

The test-firing of a ballistic missile on Wednesday at the Palmahim Israel Defense Forces base in central Israel would not have been possible without a long and complex process of serious planning and rigorous safety standards; The joint drill with the Italian Air Force last week over Sardinia could not have occurred without extensive pre-planning with the Italians. The drill planned for Thursday in Holon, simulating a rocket attack on Gush Dan, was scheduled a long time ago by the Home Front Command.

However, one cannot ignore the proximity of these events, together with the continuing operational work on the Iron Dome systems in Gaza and in northern Israel, the acceleration of the Magic Wand and Arrow 3 defense systems – and naturally the public discourse over the last few days concerning the possibility of a strike on Iran.

All these elements – with differing degrees of planning - provide the background music in a concert of a military apparatus preparing for a possible large-scale operation. Even if the decision to attack Iran has not yet been made, and despite opposition by senior security officials, the IDF's task – and that of the rest of the security and intelligence bodies – is to provide the decision-making level with the maximum number of operational options and the offensive and defensive options.

The speed in which events are unfolding, and the advancement of the IDF and military industries' development and training programs, often result in such a combination – drills simulating long-range attacks and drills simulating missile attacks on population centers. Such coincidences have occurred quite often in the past, and they will happen again in the future.