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Sunday | October 12, 2003

Will Israel Blast Iran's Nuclear Facilities?

By Meteor Blades

German U-boats have made the front pages this weekend for the first time in nearly 60 years. Israel is said to have outfitted three modern, German-made diesel submarines to fire nuclear-tipped missiles. Although the government never discusses its nuclear capability openly – and punishes journalists who do – the submarines mean Israel now can launch an atomic attack or retaliation from land, air or sea.

Weekend reports in German, American and Israeli media all indicate that the announcement is part of a stepped-up offensive by the United States and Israel against Iran’s alleged efforts to produce nuclear weapons.

Ha’aretz, the left of center Israeli daily, reports :

Heading off Iran’s attempt to attain nuclear capability is one of the Mossad’s main missions, and the foreign media is one of the most important instruments utilized in this effort. Mossad agents supply foreign journalists with information about Iran’s nuclear efforts; such foreign reports, the Mossad expects, support the international campaign to thwart Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Sometimes, the foreign media are used to deliver deterrence-oriented messages about Israel’s capabilities and intentions. Sources say one Mossad official was recently commended by his superiors after a leading U.S. newspaper released a report about progress notched in Iran’s nuclear weapons.

That agent must be all smiles today if the stories in Der Spiegel and the Los Angeles Times were his doing.

In conjunction with its report on the conversion of the U-boats, Der Spiegel published a story saying that Israel has developed detailed plans for taking out six Iranian nuclear sites.

The conservative Jerusalem Post reports :

The German newspaper Der Spiegel reported Saturday that Israel has prepared plans for a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to halt Iran’s progress towards attaining nuclear weapons. Der Spiegel reported that a special unit of the Mossad received an order two months ago to prepare a detailed plan to destroy Iran’s nuclear sites. According to the paper, the Mossad’s plan is ready and has been delivered to the Israeli Air Force, which will carry out the strike.

The newspaper said its source is an IAF fighter-bomber pilot, who said the plan to take out Iran’s nuclear sites was “complex, yet manageable.” …

The report went on to say that three of Iran’s nuclear sites were totally unknown to the outside world.

In the most comprehensive of the newspaper stories, the Sunday Los Angeles Times quotes “senior Bush administration and Israeli officials” that Tel Aviv has accomplished what was reported as a potentiality in the Washington Post more than a year ago.

The Times says:

Israel has modified American-supplied cruise missiles to carry nuclear warheads on submarines, giving the Middle East’s only nuclear power the ability to launch atomic weapons from land, air and beneath the sea, according to senior Bush administration and Israeli officials. …

While not acknowledging the country’s nuclear capability, Israeli officials have promised they would not “introduce” such weapons to the Middle East. Israeli and U.S. officials said that means Israel would not launch a first strike using the weapons. They argue that other countries have nothing to fear from Israel’s nuclear arms, whereas Israel has everything to fear from its neighbors. Even so, Israel’s nuclear stockpile confers military superiority that translates into a high degree of freedom of action, from bombing a suspected terrorist camp in Syria last week to the destruction of an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981. ...

Since 1969, Washington has accepted Israel’s status as a nuclear power and not pressured it to sign the nonproliferation treaty. …

Israel’s nuclear program remains shrouded by a policy it calls “nuclear ambiguity.” The phrase means Israel does not acknowledge its nuclear capability and suffer the accompanying political and economic fallout, yet it gains the benefit of deterrence because other nations know the weapons exist.

The timing of the “leaks” underpinning the current stories – backed up by the Ha’aretz story linked above – clearly seems designed to exert pressure on Iran, which has been standing firm against tougher inspections of its nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

It seems to be a U.S.-Israeli message delivered in tandem: Give us a good look inside those facilities or we’ll smash them.

Nobody should doubt that Israel would take out Iran’s nuclear capabilities. It destroyed the Iraqi reactor at Osirak in 1981. Pre-emptive strikes produce no squeamishness in Tel Aviv. Whether Israel is being “encouraged” in this direction by the United States or moving on its own can be debated endlessly with no resolution.

The question is what the diplomatic and military fallout will be if it does send its jets against Iran. Tehran has warned that Israel would pay a heavy price for such an attack. Many moderate Muslims who saw the Afghan-Taliban attack as justified, the Iraq attack as far less so, likely would see such a move against Iran by Israel – already regarded as a U.S. puppet - as clear evidence that America really is engaged in a crusade not against terrorists but Islam itself.

U.S. nuclear inspectors were allegedly tricked for decades (by a false wall) into believing that no weapons grade materials were being produced at Israel’s Dimona reactor beginning in 1964. Maybe so, but it’s no secret to anyone that the U.S. has turned a blind eye toward Israel’s development of sophisticated nuclear weapons. Moreover, unlike Washington’s attitude toward other countries in the Middle East, and throughout the world, no pressure has been exerted on Israel to sign the non-proliferation treaty.

As the Times notes:

"We tolerate nuclear weapons in Israel for the same reason we tolerate them in Britain and France," a senior administration official said. "We don't regard Israel as a threat."

To avoid triggering American economic and military sanctions, U.S. intelligence agencies routinely omit Israel from semiannual reports to Congress identifying countries developing weapons of mass destruction.

However one may feel about Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons and Washington’s “toleration” of this, for even moderate Arabs this represents an infuriating double-standard and is viewed as a prime example of an unwillingness to be even-handed.

Again, as the Times reports:

Arab diplomats and U.N. officials said Israel’s steady enhancement of its secret nuclear arsenal, and U.S. silence about it, has increased the desire of Arab states for similar weapons.

Israel argues that it is surrounded by enemies, and that the worst is Iran, which has publicly called for destruction of the Jewish state. Iran cannot, Israelis say, be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons.

It’s in everyone’s interest to ensure that nuclear weapons don’t spread any further than they already have. Indeed, it’s in everybody’s interests for governments to work toward the day when every last one of these weapons is dismantled. Only post-apartheid South Africa has been willing to go that far. But that is proof that the genie can be returned to bottle.

As long as Israel has nuclear weapons other nations will argue that they, too, must have them. To get Israel to surrender its nuclear capability will not happen until it is assured that its very existence is no longer at stake.

This makes for a knot of Gordian qualities. It cannot be cut with a pre-emptive swing of the sword. A diplomatic unraveling is necessary.

Posted October 12, 2003 12:27 AM | Comments (173)


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