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News | Rhetoric Suggesting Potential Israeli Attack on Iran Escalates

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

03 Nov 2011 13:41Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

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Netanyahu Seeks Cabinet Majority for Military Action against Iran's Nuclear Plants

This was the lead headline of Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Wednesday, as translated from Hebrew by Richard Silverstein, the progressive, pro-peace activist who writes an influential blog on Israel and the Middle East. Haaretz continued,

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are trying to muster a majority in the cabinet in favor of military action against Iran, a senior Israeli official has said. According to the official, there is a "small advantage" in the cabinet for the opponents of such an attack. Netanyahu and Barak recently persuaded Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who previously objected to attacking Iran, to support such a move.

As Silverstein reported, another Israeli newspaper, Maariv, ran a headline with a similar theme:

Meridor: Iran Deliberations Graver than Anat Kamm Leaks

Dan Meridor is Israel's deputy prime minister and minister of intelligence and atomic energy. According to Haaretz, as translated by Silverstein, Meridor is one of the ministers who oppose military attacks on Iran. The reference is to the Anat Kamm-Uri Blau affair, a leak of thousands of classified Israel Defense Forces (IDF) documents by former Israeli soldier Anat Kamm who, during her military service as an assistant in the Central Command bureau, secretly copied thousands of classified documents. After her military service, Kamm leaked the documents to Haaretz journalist Uri Blau. She was later convicted of espionage and divulging confidential information without authorization. Information from the leak suggested that the IDF had defied a court ruling against assassinating wanted militants in the West Bank who could potentially be arrested safely. The leak damaged the IDF's reputation, and Meridor is presumably saying that if Israel attacks Iran, the damage to Israel and the IDF will be even worse.

And the warnings about a possible Israeli attack on Iran are coming not just from Haaretz and Maariv. Israel Defense, as translated by Silverstein, reported that Israel tested a new multistage rocket on Wednesday. The ballistic missile, Jericho-3, is believed to be nuclear-capable. Dubbed the "Iran missile," it is believed to be the type of weapon that could be used in an assault on Iran's nuclear facilities.

According to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs,

On 27 October 2011 the Lebanese newspaper Al Joumhouria reported that in recent weeks the leader of [Lebanese] Hezbollah, [Sheikh] Hasan Nasrallah, held a series of meetings with the organization's highest level military command, as well as field commanders and operational-level commanders responsible for preparing Hezbollah's military force for war with Israel. Nasrallah updated his commanders on regional developments, the situation in Lebanon, and on Hezbollah's internal and organizational affairs. According to a source close to Hezbollah, Nasrallah's operational directive to the commanders was to prepare for the fact that in the next military conflict with Israel, Hezbollah will hit Tel Aviv with missiles at the outset of the war, while also dispatching forces to conquer the Galilee. The source stressed that this is an operational directive and not a matter of psychological warfare. Hezbollah's conclusion from the lessons of the Second Lebanon War is that, next time, Israel will have no red lines in waging all-out war against Lebanon and Hezbollah. Hence, Hezbollah is planning "many surprises" that will change the force equation with Israel both at the start of the conflict and during its operational phase.

The Jerusalem Center's report concluded,

Nasrallah's recent escalation of public statements on concrete targets for the next war -- rocket fire on Tel Aviv at its outset and the conquest of the Galilee, along with the completion of military preparations -- do not come in a vacuum. They stem from heightened fear in Hezbollah that an Israeli and/or American attack on Iran is drawing nearer. Hence, as a strategic arm of Iran that sees itself as Iran's first line of defense against Israel, Hezbollah is seeking, with Iran's help, to deter Israel.

Earlier, Silverstein reported that in an interview with Yisrael HaYom, Netanyahu had said (emphasis mine),

Iran's nuclear programs are turning it into an existential danger to the State of Israel. The question is not just what Israel is doing to stop it, but what the world is doing. The awareness by the world community that Iran is progressing on a track toward developing a nuclear weapon obligates it to act so that Iran does not get this weapon. With every day that passes, Iran gets closer. The obligation of the international community to act grows as the fear [that Iran progresses toward a bomb] does. You must keep in mind: that we aspire toward peace; but at the same time we must wield the sword of David to defend the Jewish State.

Regarding Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak's state of mind concerning Iran, Silverstein quoted from the Hebrew edition of Haaretz:

Several of those who've conversed with him were shocked by his apocalyptic tone. In the case of Barak, the question always arises whether he really means what he's saying...does he believe that if Israel prepares a military option and threatens persuasively enough, that the world will awaken and take action on its [Israel's] behalf. But nevertheless, more and more people are worried that Barak is serious, and they are frightened by this.

Silverstein also reported on the provocative Facebook posting by senior Likud member of the Knesset Carmel Shama HaCohen (Gilad Shalit is the Israeli soldier who was captured by Hamas in 2006 and recently freed in exchange for 1,000 Palestinians imprisoned in Israel):

At the beginning of the current government's term three chief objectives were set: ending the economic crisis, returning Gilad Shalit, and eliminating the Iranian nuclear [program]. We've exited the economic crisis for some time, Shalit comes home Tuesday alive and well...

[On Thursday, a Haaretz column by Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff suggested that some of Israel's recent moves

are part of a carefully orchestrated campaign whose purpose is not necessarily an Israeli attack. It could be a means of sparking a broad diplomatic maneuver to ratchet up sanctions on Iran. [...]

So what's really going on here? It seems that only Netanyahu and Barak know, and maybe even they haven't decided. While many people say Netanyahu and Barak are conducting sophisticated psychological warfare and don't intend to launch a military operation, top officials, including some in the forum of eight senior ministers, are still afraid.

Ostensibly, Israel is in a win-win situation. If its scare tactics work, the international community will impose paralyzing sanctions on Iran. If the world falls asleep at its post, there are alternatives.

The authors, however, suggest that this is a "dangerous game," which raises the chances of one side or the other making a misstep that precipitates open conflict.]

At the same time, it is not just Israel that may attack Iran. The Guardian reported on Wednesday that the British military is rapidly developing contingency plans to aid the United States in case it attacks Iran, based on the belief that "the US may decide to fast-forward plans for targeted missile strikes at some key Iranian facilities." Efforts are evidently underway to determine the optimal location for deployment of the Royal Navy ships and submarines equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles to participate in such strikes.

Apparently, Iran's resilience in the face of economic sanctions, as well as the cyberspace attacks on its nuclear facilities last year, has surprised Western observers. They believe that within a year, Iran will be moving all of its nuclear materials and more advanced centrifuges to the Fordow enrichment facility, built under a mountain near Qom. There they will be protected from most missiles and bombs, even though the Obama administration has quietly supplied Israel with bunker-buster bombs, something that even the George W. Bush administration refused to do.

The Islamic Republic's leaders have staged a public counterattack. In a speech to a group of high school and university students commemorating the anniversary of the 1964 exile of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attacked the United States fiercely, using virulent language. Rejecting the U.S. allegations of a Quds Force plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington and praising the force, he called the United States the "world's great terrorist" and claimed, "We have 100 irrefutable documents that demonstrate the role of the United States in leading terrorism and terrorists in Iran and in the region. Using these documents, we will expose the United States and those who claim to support human rights and war on terrorism."

Iran's military leaders have also been using tough language to respond to what they perceive as the U.S. and Israeli threat. Major General Seyyed Hassan Firoozabadi, chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, said, "The United States is well aware that any attack on Iran by the Zionist regime will not only hurt that regime, but also the U.S., very seriously. As the security apparatus of the nation, we take seriously any threat, even if it has low probability, and have the utmost readiness with the necessary equipment to punish any mistake in such a way as to surprise [any attackers]." Regarding a possible attack on Syria, Iran's strategic ally in the region, Firoozabadi said that if such an attack does take place, "There will be no United States of Israel left." Back in September, Firoozabadi's deputy, Major General Gholam Ali Rashid said, "We are currently in a state of threat. It would not be exaggeration to say that we are on the verge of a probable war."

Meanwhile, White House spokesman Jay Carney emphasized on Wednesday that the United States has focused on using diplomatic means against Iran. He refused to articulate any official U.S. views about reports on a possible Israeli attack on Iran and said that he could not respond to "rumors and guessing."

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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