Tensions rise over an Israel-Iran conflict

Nov. 4, 2011 at 2:56 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 4 (UPI) -- Anxiety is rising in world capitals over possible pre-emptive military strikes by Israel against Iran over the threat posed by Tehran's nuclear program.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, together with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, are said to be lobbying Cabinet members to agree to attacks on Iranian military facilities, Israeli news reports state.

Punctuating those reports was news that Israel recently tested a Jericho missile, said to be capable of striking Iran.

British media are reporting that the country's Ministry of Defense has ordered services to draw up contingency plans for supporting possible U.S. military operations against Iran if Washington were to back up Tel Aviv in any such scenario.

Tehran, meanwhile, is warning that any "Zionist regimes attack against Iran would lead to heavy damages to the U.S. as well as to the Zionist regime."

The saber rattling and hand-wringing coincides with the imminent release of a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency that apparently will give unprecedented detail on Iran's nuclear program and new evidence suggesting Tehran, despite repeated denials, is attempting to produce nuclear weapons.

It is believed the report will show Tehran has been clandestinely moving centrifuges, which enrich uranium, to an underground site near the city of Qom and that centrifuges at Iran's Natanz enrichment plant are producing more -- and higher grade -- uranium than previously believed.

"All these factors are giving Israel and Western powers reason for concern," the Financial Times quoted Mark Fitzpatrick, a senior fellow at the International Institute for strategic Studies, as saying. "Some analysts calculate that Iran could be just two months away from testing a bomb. I still think it is more than a year, although the more alarmist claims are getting publicity."

But whether it's several months or several years away, the import for Israel of an Iran with nuclear weapons is unmistakable. Tehran's Islamist leaders haven't been shy in espousing the annihilation of the Jewish state.

"A nuclear Iran will pose a serious threat to the Middle East and the entire world, and it, of course, poses a direct and heavy threat to us," Netanyahu said in Parliament last week.

Netanyahu and Lieberman are said to be furious about the reports of the attack discussion entering the public domain and has ordered an investigation into the leaks.

Israel, officials say, would like a diplomatic solution to the problem but Netanyahu also emphasizes that all options remain on the table.

The United States, Britain and other countries also express the preference for a diplomatic resolution to the issue, which would include stronger economic sanctions against Iran to force its compliance with international resolutions governing the spread of nuclear arms.

Is Israel seriously considering a pre-emptive strike with or without backing from Western powers? Israeli military and civilian officials have expressed deep concern over possible repercussions of such action but Israel has a track record of acting unilaterally over possible nuclear threats as a plain and simple matter of survival. In 1981 it bombed Iraq's suspected nuclear reactor and in 2007 did the same to Syria.

However, Iran's previous concealment of nuclear reactor sites and their establishment of one deep within a mountain -- together with its defensive missile capabilities -- pose a formidable military challenge to any attacker.

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