Thursday, October 21, 2004

Will Israel vs. Iran be the next act?

East Texas Weekly Community Newspaper: "Will Israel vs. Iran be the next act?

The United States’ preemptive war against Iraq last year, while controversial, was not unprecedented. In 1981, Israel launched a preemptive military strike against Iraq’s unfinished nuclear reactor at Osirak. This attack by Israel indicated a willingness of its leaders to take matters into their own hands when diplomatic efforts were not trusted. In the next few months, Israel may again launch a first strike to prevent another country from going nuclear. This time, it’s Iran that may be the target, and this time, a unilateral move by Israel might spark a regional war.
This crisis has built up over the past two years. In 2002, Iran admitted that it had been bringing in nuclear materials and equipment for the previous 18 years, causing Western governments to fear that Tehran’s secret efforts might be disguised to produce a nuclear arsenal. Iran has denied this, but its reluctance to fully cooperate with outside inspections in the meantime has given more weight to that allegation.
Things came to a head this September, when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voted that Iran immediately halt its activities, and demanded that it demonstrate that its nuclear program is civilian or else risk having the situation turned over to the United Nations Security Council.
Iran immediately responded that it still planned to enrich over 37 tons of uranium, which would theoretically create enough for up to five nuclear weapons. But, giving it some diplomatic wiggle room, its foreign ministry has said that it has not done so yet, and outside examiners have not detected traces of enrichment.
The international inspection process may not be dead. Even while Iran continues to assert, “Nobody has the right to deny Iran its right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes,” he is also floating the idea of creating “any kind of verification mechanism” that could prove Iran’s nuclear program is civilian only.
Not good enough for Israel. While it is safe to say that all of Iran’s neighbors are disconcerted at the idea of it having a nuclear weapons program, Israel is probably the most alarmed. Spurring this on is Israel’s idea that Iran’s nuclear program will in November reach a “point of no return.”
Rumblings of a possible preemptive action have been echoing around Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, not known for his reluctance to engage in controversial military actions, asserted that Israel is “taking measures to defend itself.” His defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, has said, “All options have to be taken into account to prevent” Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapons program; furthermore, he has rather darkly commented, “The question is what comes first, nuclear ability or regime change.”
Adding credibility to these carefully vague warnings is the recent announcement that Israel would be buying $319 million worth of munitions from the United States, including 500 bunker-buster bombs. This purchase will update weapons already in Israel’s arsenal and has been in the works since June, but is still undoubtedly intended to send the message that Israel’s military is robust and well stocked with the latest armaments.
But as has been made painfully obvious by the war in Iraq, simply having the latest military hardware and the will to use them does not mean that your preemptive strike will have the desired effect. Iran’s nuclear facilities are strewn about a very large country and, if the intelligence is not solid, Israel may only land a glancing blow. In the process of doing so, Israel stands a very good chance of triggering a damaging military response from Iran. What’s more, other countries in the region may be convinced to join in the fray, either because they have long seethed that Israel alone in the Middle East is tacitly allowed to have a nuclear program, or because of resentment built up from the Israel-Palestine conflict.
A preemptive strike against a nebulous threat didn’t work for the United States; it would be foolish to think Israel would have better luck.
Victoria Samson is a research analyst at the Center for Defense Information, a non-partisan think tank in Washington, D.C., that focuses on defense and security issues. For more information visit Distributed by"


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