U.S. puts brakes on Israeli plan for attack on Iran nuclear
By Aluf Benn
The American administration has rejected an Israeli request for
military equipment and support that would improve Israel's ability
to attack Iran's nuclear facilities.
A report published last week by the Washington-based Institute for
Science and International Security (ISIS) states that military
strikes are unlikely to destroy Iran's centrifuge program
> for enriching
The Americans viewed the request, which was transmitted (and
rejected) at the highest level, as a sign that Israel is in the
advanced stages of preparations to attack Iran. They therefore
warned Israel against attacking, saying such a strike would
undermine American interests. They also demanded that Israel give
them prior notice if it nevertheless decided to strike Iran.
As compensation for the requests it rejected, Washington offered to
improve Israel's defenses against surface-to-surface missiles.
Israel responded by saying it reserves the right to take whatever
action it deems necessary if diplomatic efforts to halt Iran's
Senior Israeli officials had originally hoped that U.S. President
George Bush would order an American strike on Iran's nuclear
facilities before leaving office, as America's military is far
better equipped to conduct such a strike successfully than is
Jerusalem also fears that an Israeli strike, even if it succeeded
well enough to delay Iran's nuclear development for a few years,
would give Iran international legitimacy for its program, which it
currently lacks. Israel, in contrast, would be portrayed as an
aggressor, and would be forced to contend alone with Iran's
retaliation, which would probably include thousands of missile
strikes by Iranian allies Hezbollah, Hamas and perhaps even Syria.
Recently, however, Israel has concluded that Bush is unlikely to
attack, and will focus instead on ratcheting up diplomatic pressure
on Tehran. It prefers to wait until this process has been exhausted,
though without conceding the military option. Israel's assumption is
that Iran will continue to use delaying tactics, and may even agree
to briefly suspend its uranium enrichment program in an effort to
see out the rest of Bush's term in peace.
The American-Israeli dispute over a military strike against Iran
erupted during Bush's visit to Jerusalem in May. At the time, Bush
held a private meeting on the Iranian threat with Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and the Israelis
presented their request for certain specific items of military
equipment, along with diplomatic and security backing.
Following Bush's return to Washington, the administration studied
Israel's request, and this led it to suspect that Israel was
planning to attack Iran within the next few months. The Americans
therefore decided to send a strong message warning it not to do so.
U.S. National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell and Chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen both visited here in June and,
according to the Washington Post, told senior Israeli defense
officials that Iran is still far from obtaining nuclear weapons, and
that an attack on Iran would undermine American interests.
Therefore, they said, the U.S. would not allow Israeli planes to
overfly Iraq en route to Iran.
The Americans sent a similar message to Iraq, which had objected
vociferously to the idea of its air space being used for an Israeli
attack on Iran.
These private messages were accompanied by a series of leaks from
the Pentagon that Israel interpreted as attempts to thwart any
possibility of an attack on Iran. For instance, the Americans
revealed details of a major Israel Air Force exercise in the
Mediterranean; they also said they doubted Israel had adequate
intelligence about Iran's nuclear facilities. In addition, Mullen
spoke out publicly against an attack on Iran.
Two weeks ago, Barak visited Washington for talks with his American
counterpart, Robert Gates, and Vice President Richard Cheney. Both
conversations focused on Iran, but the two Americans presented
conflicting views: Gates vehemently opposes an attack on Iran, while
Cheney is the administration's leading hawk.
Barak presented Israel's assessments of the Iranian situation and
warned that Iran was liable to advance its nuclear program under
cover of the endless deliberations about sanctions - which have thus
far produced little in the way of action. He also acknowledged that
effective sanctions would require cooperation from Russia, China and
India, all of which currently oppose sanctions with real teeth.
Russia, however, is considered key to efforts to isolate Iran, and
Israeli officials have therefore urged their American counterparts
in recent months to tone down Washington's other disputes with
Moscow to focus all its efforts on obtaining Russia's backing
against Iran. For instance, they suggested that Washington offer to
drop its plan to station a missile defense system in Poland and the
Czech Republic - a proposal Russia views as a threat, though
Washington insists the system is aimed solely at Iran - in exchange
for Russia agreeing to stiffer sanctions against Iran. However, the
administration rejected this idea.
In an attempt to compensate Israel for having rejected all its
proposals, Washington then offered to bolster Israel's defenses
against ballistic missiles. For instance, Gates proposed stationing
an advanced radar system in Israel and linking Israel directly into
America's early warning satellite network; he also offered increased
American funding for the development of two Israeli missile defense
systems - the Arrow-3, an upgrade of Israel's existing Arrow system
for intercepting ballistic missiles, and Iron Dome, a system
designed to intercept short-range rockets. In addition, Washington
agreed to sell Israel nine Super Hercules long-range transport
aircraft for $2 billion. However, it would not agree to supply
Israel with any offensive systems.
Now, Israel is awaiting the outcome of the latest talks between the
West and Iran, as well as a formal announcement of the opening of an
American interests section in Tehran. Israel views the latter as
sure proof that Washington is not planning a military strike.
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