Monday, December 12, 2005

The Australian: Sharon prepares for strike on Iran [December 12, 2005]

December 12, 2005

ISRAELI Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ordered his armed forces to be prepared to strike at Iran's nuclear facilities by the end of March, according to a report in The Sunday Times.

The operation would involve both air and ground attacks against widely scattered sites where Iran is developing its nuclear capability, according to the report.

Citing unnamed Israeli security sources, the newspaper said that Israel would employ its F-15I warplanes, which can reach Iran from Israel and return without refuelling, as well as crack commando forces.

Israeli military intelligence chief Aharon Zeevi Farkash told a Knesset committee last week that if Iran's nuclear weapons development program was not halted by the end of next March it would have reached the point of no return.

Mr Sharon said this month that Israel was letting the international community take the lead in the effort to stop the Iranian program. However, he added that Israel "cannot accept" the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

Tensions have been heightened by recent statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling for "wiping this scourge of shame (Israel) from the Islamic world" and expressing doubt that the Holocaust had happened.

Last week, Mr Ahmadinejad suggested that the Jewish state be moved to Europe.

The Sunday Times report said Israeli intelligence officers, operating out of the Kurdish area of northern Iraq, had penetrated Iran and used electronic intercepts to identify hitherto unknown uranium enrichment sites.

These, the report said, were disguised as civilian structures and had gone undetected by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency. IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei has recently stepped up his warnings about Iran's nuclear program.

He told British newspaper The Independent last week that if the enrichment plant at Natanz became fully operational, Iran could be only months away from nuclear weapons.

But he warned Israel against attempting to stop the program militarily. An attack, he said, would likely only delay the Iranian program while providing Tehran with motivation for revenge.

A senior intelligence adviser to the Israeli Defence Ministry, General Amos Gilad, said that the operational details cited in The Sunday Times report "appear more imaginary than real".

However, he said, a military operation "cannot be ruled out in the future".

In an interview on Israel Radio, General Gilad, formerly with Israeli military intelligence, said that "at this stage our focus is on international diplomacy". But Israel, he said, was constantly reassessing the situation.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom yesterday called on the UN to urgently impose sanctions against Tehran to prevent it from proceeding with its nuclear plans. "To think that a mad regime like this will have nuclear weapons is a nightmare for the entire world."

In 1981, Israeli warplanes destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor just before it came on line, effectively delaying Baghdad's nuclear program for years.

But Tehran has drawn lessons from the event and scattered its nuclear efforts over many sites, some of them deep underground and some in civilian areas.

Most military experts agree that their complete elimination would be extremely difficult.

The Sunday Times offers a quote from a source who appears to think differently. "If we opt for the military strike," the source said, "it must be not less than 100per cent successful. It will resemble the destruction of the Egyptian air force in three hours in June, 1967 (the Six Day War)".

Israel has hitherto kept a relatively low profile on the Iranian issue, preferring to have the international community not expect Israel to resolve the issue militarily.

In the past few weeks, however, there have been militant statements from Israeli figures.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seeking election as Likud Party leader, pledged that he would "continue the legacy of Menahem Begin", the prime minister who ordered the strike against the Iraqi reactor.

Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz, who is challenging Mr Netanyahu for the Likud leadership, attacked him for presuming to place Israel at the forefront of what should be an international effort.

But he shifted his position over the weekend, apparently in angry reaction to the Iranian President's statements.

Mr Mofaz said that Israel must prepare solutions "other than diplomatic" in the face of Tehran's intransigence.

A former head of Mossad, Danny Yatom, himself a would-be Labour Party Knesset member, suggested that the issue was being influenced by spin on the part of politicians seeking to profit from an Iranian scare.

Hear O Israel...We are warning you.  Don't do t!


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