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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Israel getting antsy over Iran?

Times of London Jerusalem correspondent Uzi Mahnaimi reports in Sunday's editions that Israel is getting a bit antsy over US inaction on Iran and may take matters into its own hands.
Mounting fears that the United States will do nothing to prevent Iran becoming a nuclear power will be outlined by Ehud Olmert, Israel’s prime minister, when he meets President George W Bush in Washington tomorrow.

Israel is concerned that Bush will pass the Iranian hot potato to Barack Obama, the president-elect, while the last chance of destroying Tehran’s nuclear bomb-making programme may be passing.

A Pentagon source told The Sunday Times earlier this year that Bush had given Israel an “amber light” to carry on with military preparations to attack Iranian nuclear sites.

According to Israeli intelligence sources, Iran has sufficient nuclear material to make an atomic bomb. “They are working on three programmes at once,” said the sources. “They are speeding up their centrifuges to enrich uranium, calibrating a warhead to fit their ballistic missiles and improving the range and accuracy of their ballistic missiles.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been inspecting Iran’s main nuclear facility at Natanz, published a report last week which concluded that Iran is rapidly increasing stockpiles of enriched uranium and may be on course to build a nuclear weapon by next year.
As long-time readers know, I am quite skeptical about articles under Mahnaimi's byline. But to this point, he's not saying anything that hasn't been reported elsewhere. For months there has been speculation in Israel that an attack on Iran would be launched between the election and the next President's inauguration. The only question was whether the US would launch it or whether Israel would launch it with the US's explicit or tacit support (i.e. whether the US would sit silently or whether it would give the IAF the codes to overfly Iraq). Given the revelations about Syria's nuclear program this past week, Obama's declared intention of 'talking unconditionally' to Iran, and Obama's crew of anti-Israel advisers (the announcement this week that General James Jones is the front-runner for National Security Adviser didn't warm any hearts in Israel) it's not at all surprising that Israel would be thinking about doing something about Iran. In fact, the only surprise is that Olmert is the one going to Washington - I would look at any action by Olmert today as trying to gain a legacy other than bribery and theft. But here's where Mahnaimi goes off into La La Land.
In the baking heat of the Negev desert, the Israeli air force’s top guns are training for a secret mission. No one here knows if, or when, a raid will get the political go-ahead but the pilots say it could be their third attack in three decades on a nuclear plant and easily the most dangerous.

On the runway an F-16 fighter jet was preparing to take off. In the cockpit was a 25-year-old pilot whom we have agreed to call Captain M.

I knew I was flying the special one,” said M, referring to the nuclear symbol painted on the fuselage to mark a “kill” 27 years ago when two bombs were dropped, each weighing a ton, on Saddam Hussein’s Tammuz nuclear reactor near Baghdad, destroying it completely.

In a further indication that this squadron is preparing for conflict, 80 US technicians based at the nearby Nevatim air base in the Negev have installed the world’s most advanced X-band radar system, with a range of 1,250 miles, that will hugely enhance Israel’s tactical capacity in the air.
Really.... The X-Band radar is purely defensive and its installation lowers the possibility that the US will support an Israeli attack on Iran. If it works like it's supposed to (which of course, no one knows), it could make an attack unnecessary. And does anyone really think that the IAF would let a Times of London reporter in to see them training (and to write about it immediately!) if they were really preparing for an attack? And is this really any different from standard IAF training? Come on....

Could an attack still happen? Sure. But when and if it does you can bet that Uzi Mahnaimi will not be the first to know about it.


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