Israeli Cabinet officials are under pressure from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to support the possible use of armed force against Iran, Haaretz reported on Wednesday (see GSN, Nov. 1).
Their push has prompted Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to reverse his prior opposition to such strikes, but one government source said adversaries of a military option still wield a "small advantage" on the Cabinet. Iran's atomic activities are viewed in Jerusalem, Washington and other capitals as a pathway to a nuclear weapons capability, though Tehran has maintained it has no intention to build such armaments (Haaretz I, Nov. 2).
The Israeli air force has carried out multiple exercises involving probable components of any operation carried out over a significant distance, such as fighter aircraft, fuel tankers and surveillance systems, Haaretz reported. The most recent such practice session took place late last month at a NATO base in Italy (Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz II, Nov. 2). Significant cloud covering would nearly certainly preclude wintertime strikes on Iran by Israel's air assets, Western specialists have indicated.
The International Atomic Energy Agency's next safeguards report on Iran's nuclear program is anticipated to be a critical factor in determining Israel's next steps, according to a number of ministers and high-level envoys. The document is slated for publication on Nov. 8, the newspaper reported.
A U.S. strike against Iran would be favorable over an Israel assault, Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon said. "A military move is the last resort," the official added.
Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor has also called for U.S. involvement.
"It's clear to all that a nuclear Iran is a grave danger and the whole world, led by the United States, must make constant efforts to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons," Meridor told Walla last month.
"The Iranians already have more than 4 tons of 3-4 percent [low-enriched] uranium and [154 pounds] of 20 percent-enriched uranium," he said (see GSN, June 13). The Middle Eastern state last year began generating the higher-enriched uranium, enabling it to potentially more quickly produce nuclear-weapon material, which must be refined to roughly 90 percent. Tehran, which insists the uranium is intended to fuel a medical research reactor, in June announced plans to move production of the material to the hardened Qum facility and to boost output by threefold (see GSN, Oct. 21).
"It's clear to us they are continuing to make missiles. Iran's nuclearization is not only a threat to Israel but to several other Western states, and the international interest must unite here," Meridor said.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai was undecided on potential armed action.
"This is a complicated time and it's better not to talk about how complicated it is. This possible action is keeping me awake at night," Yishai said on Monday. "Imagine we're (attacked) from the north, south and center. They have short-range and long-range missiles -- we believe they have about 100,000 rockets and missiles" (Haaretz I).
Barak on Monday said Israel had not finalized any plan to attack Iran, but he seemed to hint on Tuesday that Jerusalem might have to take unilateral action to address the threat, Agence France-Presse reported.
"A situation could be created in the Middle East in which Israel must defend its vital interests in an independent fashion, without necessarily having to rely on other forces, regional or otherwise," Barak told his nation's legislature (Jean-Luc Renaudie, Agence France-Presse/Google News, Nov. 2).
Jerusalem has ordered its top representatives in Western capitals to tell high-level officials that time is running short for adopting productive economic penalties against Iran. The effort is aimed at curbing Iranian nuclear activities through harsher punitive measures, Haaretz reported on Tuesday.
"The significant progress that has taken place on all the components of the Iranian nuclear program should be emphasized, especially uranium enrichment," states a confidential communication to top Israeli diplomats in dozens of nations. The enrichment process can produce fuel for civilian applications as well as bomb material.
"The Iranian program is military, and in light of International Atomic Energy Agency reports, there is an increased fear that the Iranians are developing a nuclear warhead for ballistic missiles," the document states.
Another communication transmitted several days ago asks envoys to note a purported Iran-backed attempt to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington. "You should emphasize that this incident indicates the need to isolate Iran," the document states.
One Israeli Foreign Ministry official said "there's a feeling that even though the sanctions are harming Iran, the technological timetable is faster than the diplomatic timetable.
"Now is the time to intensify the steps against Iran," the source said. "The pressure influences Iran, and the present circumstances require us to increase that pressure. The Iranians are preparing a technological infrastructure that will enable them to have a breakthrough as they head for nuclear weapons within a short time span. If Iran passes this technological threshold, the ramifications will be severe -- especially in light of the weakening of regional stability following the Arab Spring" (Barak Ravid, Haaretz III, Nov. 2).
Lieberman on Wednesday brushed off the reported high-level campaign for military action, telling Israel Radio that "99 percent of all the reports have no connection to reality."
He added: "The international community must prove its ability to make decisions and enforce tough sanctions on Iran's central bank as well as halt the purchasing of oil" (Haaretz IV, Nov. 2).
Iranian armed forces Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi on Wednesday said the United States and Israel would sustain significant losses over any attack on his country, according to Haaretz.
"The U.S. officials know that the Zionist regime's military attack against Iran will inflict heavy damages to the U.S. seriously as well as the Zionist regime," the Iranian Students' News Agency quoted Firouzabadi as saying with regard to the reported Israeli push for military action (Haaretz V, Nov. 2).
Meanwhile, Iran's president on Tuesday said economic penalties engineered by the United States had inflicted a heavy toll on the Iranian financial system, the Washington Post reported.
“Our banks cannot make international transactions anymore,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Iranian lawmakers during a bid to protect his economic minister against corruption charges (Thomas Erdbrink, Washington Post, Nov. 1).