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Israel Still Not Committed to Iran Offensive: U.S.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, shown on Monday, on Tuesday said Israel had yet to commit to any use of armed force against Iran’s nuclear program (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta). U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, shown on Monday, on Tuesday said Israel had yet to commit to any use of armed force against Iran’s nuclear program (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta).

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday said Israel had still not committed to launching an armed offensive to curb Iran's disputed atomic activities, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, Aug. 14).

Israel, the United States and other nations fear Iran's atomic efforts are geared toward development of a weapon capability; Tehran insists its nuclear intentions are strictly peaceful.

"I've said this before, I'll say it now -- I don't believe they made a decision as to whether or not they will -- they will go in and attack Iran at this time," Panetta said.

"Obviously, they're an independent -- they're a sovereign country. They'll ultimately make decisions based on what they think is in their national security interest," the Pentagon chief added.

"The reality is that we still think there is room to continue to negotiate," he said. "Any kind of military action ought to be the last alternative, not the first" (Agence France-Presse I/Google News, Aug. 14).

Iran's atomic efforts would survive an Israeli armed campaign, Ynetnews.com on Tuesday quoted U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey as saying (Yitzhak Benhorin, Ynetnews.com I, Aug. 14).

Incoming Israeli Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter's position on using of force against Iran could prove decisive in any vote on the matter by the country's security Cabinet, the Jerusalem Post reported on Wednesday. The group's membership was equally split on the matter previously, insiders told the newspaper.

The former lawmaker presently does not favor either side and would gather more information before taking a stance, according to individuals close to him (Gil Hoffman, Jerusalem Post, Aug. 15).

Dichter's predecessor in the Cabinet post has said a clash with Iran would likely extend over one month and kill around 500 people, Reuters reported.

"There is no room for hysteria. Israel's home front is prepared as never before," Matan Vilnai told the Maariv newspaper in remarks made public on Wednesday.

Addressing whether Tel Aviv should enter a military conflict with Tehran, Vilnai said he did not "want to be dragged into the debate."

He added, though, that "the United States is our greatest friend and we will always have to coordinate such moves with it."

Israeli urban centers could become targets for hundreds of missiles on a daily basis during an armed exchange with Iran, leaving roughly 500 people dead, Vilnai suggested.

"There might be fewer dead, or more, perhaps ... but this is the scenario for which we are preparing, in accordance with the best expert advice," he said.

"The assessments are for a war that will last 30 days on several fronts," Vilnai added, hinting at the potential for Israel to come under rocket fire from Hezbollah in Lebanon and antagonists in the Gaza Strip.

"Just as the citizens of Japan have to understand they are likely to be hit by an earthquake, Israelis must realize that anyone who lives here has to be prepared for missiles striking the home front," he said (Reuters I, Aug. 15).

Iran's rate of transferring atomic assets to better protected locations could be a critical factor in deciding any Israeli move to employ armed force, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren told the radio station WTOP.

"They've been moving thousands of centrifuges underground where we may not be able to reach them and we may not even know what's going on," Oren said in remarks published on Tuesday.

Still, U.S. forces could effectively hit hardened Iranian atomic installations invulnerable to Israeli action, the envoy noted. "The United States has vastly greater capabilities. It's no secret America has capabilities that Israel does not have," he said.

Addressing the potential for Washington to provide advance approval of the use of force, Oren said his country is "in close consultation and cooperation with the United States and (they) understand that we are a sovereign state."

The ambassador said Iran's progress toward a bomb is of the greatest concern to both governments. He said Tehran possesses "enough enriched uranium for nearly five nuclear devices"  (J.J. Green, WTOP, Aug. 14).

The Israeli government's Iran stance came under fire on Sunday from one-time Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Ynetnews.com reported.

"The current situation does not require Israeli military action -- now or in the near future," Olmert said. "The question is how we deal with it. Back in 2003 they said that in 2007 Iran will have a bomb. Now it's 2012 and there is no bomb. It didn't happen on its own."

He urged Tel Aviv to "deal with this challenge in a restrained, responsible and discrete manner, so that we don't sow panic or create a confrontational situation with elements that are essential for Israel's security."

"Iran is far from reaching the threshold from which there is no way back," Olmert added. "Statements by which (a strike) is inevitable do not truthfully reflect the current situation from what is known to the security establishment" (Boaz Fyler, Ynetnews.com II, Aug. 12).

Meanwhile, House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-Calif.) on Tuesday urged the Obama administration to target Tuvalu for registering Iranian petroleum vessels. The practice can help Tehran to more insure and fund transfers on such ships and to evade U.S. and European Union scrutiny as it locates customers for the transported goods, Reuters reported.

Tuvalu supported Tehran by "reflagging" 22 petroleum vessels from Iran amid threats of punitive measures by Washington, Berman told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in a written communication.

Any government providing the service to Iranian petroleum carriers is subject to U.S. action under legislation enacted in August, according to the lawmaker.

Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) separately pressed President Obama to punish Tuvalu as well as Tanzania for engaging in the practice.

"The actions of the Tanzanian and Tuvaluan ship registries directly undermine the international community's ongoing diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear and ballistic missile technology, and appear to be in violation of the legislation you just signed into law," they told Obama on Tuesday in a written statement.

Tanzania is presently striking from its registry 36 Iranian petroleum ships added in the absence of its understanding or endorsement, the Tanzanian government has indicated in recent days (Ayesha Rascoe, Reuters II, Aug. 14).

The bank Standard Chartered is set to pay the New York state government a $340 million "civil penalty" over claims that it had concealed identifying information for billions of dollars in monetary transfers on behalf of Iranian entities, AFP reported. The actions, carried out across a decade, purportedly aided beneficiaries in circumventing U.S. measures aimed at isolating Persian Gulf regional power (Agence France-Presse II/Yahoo!News, Aug. 15).

Three individuals are now in German custody for allegedly supplying Iran with regulated, weapon-sensitive components, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

"In 2010 and 2011 the suspects are believed to have helped in the delivery of special valves for the construction of a heavy-water reactor in Iran and therefore to have broken the Iran embargo," government attorneys stated (Madeline Chambers, Reuters III, Aug. 15).

Iran is becoming less dependent on petroleum income, as it is now using unrelated funding sources to cover a large portion of its purchases from other countries, the nation's Fars News Agency quoted Iranian Industry, Mines and Trade Minister Mehdi Qazanfar as saying on Tuesday (Fars News Agency, Aug. 14).

Elsewhere, Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States are the targets of an international legal action initiated by relatives of Iranian atomic specialists killed in targeted strikes purportedly linked to the governments, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday (Associated Press/ABC News, Aug. 15).

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