WASHINGTON, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Just a few days before Iran announced it was removing U.N. seals on its uranium enrichment equipment and resuming nuclear research, Israel's Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz said Iran's nuclear program "can be destroyed." He made the comments during a conference at Tel Aviv University, Israeli Army Radio reported.
Halutz, however, stated Iran's continued nuclear program "it is not only Israel's problem," but said the ball was in Iran's court.
"There is no doubt the Iranians are taking this to the brink," he said.
Binyamin Netanyahu, who replaced Ariel Sharon as the head of Likud, told United Press International last November much the same, that Iran was not only Israel's problem.
The possibility of Israel and the United States acting jointly to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities has long been discussed in war rooms in Washington and Tel Aviv since word first leaked out that Iran was developing a nuclear program.
If the decision is eventually taken to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities, the odds, though, are that it will be Israel acting unilaterally. Any assistance from the United States will in all probability be limited to very discreet help provided by the U.S. intelligence community, such as offers of intelligence, satellite imagery and on the ground hum-int (human intelligence) data collected by opponents to the regime of the ayatollahs that finds it way to the CIA Headquarters at Langley, Va.
With about 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq -- and within easy reach of Iranian firepower, either in the form of direct rocket and artillery attack, or by Iraqi militia proxy, of which there is no shortage in Iraq -- it would be suicidal for the United States to attempt a direct attack on Iran.
Reacting to Iran's decision to resume nuclear fuel production research, Israel's Foreign Ministry responded by issuing a statement saying, "It is clear that this step calls for a grave and immediate international response -- sending the issue to the United Nations Security Council." The Israeli Foreign Ministry said remitting the Iran dossier to the Security Council would "send a clear message that the international community will not reconcile with Iran's breaching its commitments."
Tehran denies it is developing nuclear fuel to produce weapons, saying its program is only to generate electricity.
Before the issue can be referred to the Security Council, the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog based in Vienna, would need to take a vote on the matter. However, the 35-nation board at its last meeting in November put off a referral vote to allow diplomacy to take its course.
Yet clearly the diplomatic track has gone nowhere.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, president of Strategic Policy Consulting and a former Washington spokesman for Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, said the dialogue between the European Union-3 (Britain, France, Germany) with Iran "is dead."
Jafarzadeh added: "The Iranian regime has made a conscious decision to acquire and impose a complete nuclear fuel cycle on the world community, which the regime mockingly describes as power diplomacy." The aim of Tehran's regime, says Jafarzadeh, is to proceed "step-by-step, until the international community is faced with a fait accompli."
For Israel to carry out pre-emptive strikes against Iran represents a real challenge. Unlike the now legendary strike on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, when the Israeli air force destroyed Iraq's sole reactor, and along with it Saddam Hussein's dreams of joining the nuclear club, Iran's reactor have been scattered all over the map. According to reports from the Mojahedeed-e-Khalq, a group opposed to the current regime in Tehran, Iran's Revolutionary Guards, to whom the task has been assigned to defend the nuclear sites, has buried Iran's nuclear facilities in deep underground bunkers, often underneath rock mountains. Additionally, unlike Osirak, where the Iraqis had built a single facility, the Iranian nuclear project is scattered around anywhere from 200 to 300 sites. It would be like searching for Waldo.
On the other hand, given Ariel Sharon's incapacitated state following a massive stroke, should Israel's interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is largely perceived as a lightweight by many Israeli voters, take it upon himself to order an attack on Iran -- and if it should prove to be successful -- it would almost guarantee Olmert and the new Kadima Party a win in next March 28 election.
The date also coincides with the "window of opportunity" intelligence experts say will then be closed. One diplomat speaking to United Press International on condition of anonymity, said there "should be a tremendous sense of urgency because of the cascades Iran has put into place. This is it."
Still, the foreign diplomat said, "Diplomacy is still the best outcome. The trick is to get China and Russia on board."
The question though is will China and Russia play ball?
(Comments may be sent to Claude@upi.com.)