But the determination of Israelâ€™s leaders to halt the Iranian nuclear threat, no matter what it takes, has apparently not diminished. This has prompted an intense effort by the Obama administration to continue pressuring Netanyahu to delay an Israeli first strike, at least until after the November presidential election.
The latest senior Obama administration official to come to Israel to lobby the prime minister was Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. It was a difficult task, because Netanyahu is convinced that everything that the US and its allies have attempted so far has failed to convince the Iranians to change course. This includes sanctions, diplomacy and half-hearted US declarations of a willingness to take military action,
“However forceful our statements, they have not convinced Iran that we are serious about stopping them. Right now the Iranian regime believes that the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program. This must change and it must change quickly because time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out,â€ the prime minister said.
MORE EMPTY PROMISES OF US MILITARY INTERVENTION
Panetta responded by reassuring Netanyahu that the US â€œwill not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, period. And we will exert all options in the effort to ensure that that does not happen.”
Panetta also restated the obvious, that if America does launch a military strike on Iran, it would only be as a last resort. â€œWe have to exhaust every option, every effort, before we resort to military action,â€ Panetta told Defense Minister Ehud Barak while touring an Iron Dome missile defense instillation guarding Ashkelon which was partially financed by US aid.
In a meeting with President Shimon Peres, Panetta continued to talk tough about halting Iranâ€™s nuclear program. â€œThis is not about containment,â€ he said. â€œThis is about making very clear that they are never going to be able to get an atomic weapon.â€
Panetta was the third senior administration official to visit since the diplomatic talks with Iran broke own earlier this summer, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon. Efraim Inbar, the director of the Begin-Sadat Institute for Strategic Studies, said that Obama had sent them to Israel as â€œbaby sitters to make sure the unpredictable kids [Israelâ€™s leaders] do not misbehaveâ€ by launching an attack on Iran before the November election.
NETANYAHU ASSUMES RESPONSIBILITY
Over the weekend, Haaretz reported that in a recent talk with Israeli defense officials, Netanyahu offered to accept personal responsibility for ordering such an attack in the event that it went awry. Netanyahu reportedly said, “if an investigative committee is formed, Iâ€™ll go before it and say that I am responsible,â€ rather than you.
â€œIâ€™ve had enough of this atmosphere,â€ Netanyahu was reported to have said, referring to presentations that seem to have been prepared by Israelâ€™s military leaders to defend themselves in some future investigation.
The Prime Minister’s office refused to comment on the Ha’aretz report, but previously Netanyahu had cautioned his ministers against voicing their personal opinions on the subject of a first strike on Iran.
THE MEDIA ATTACK ON NETANYAHUâ€™S AUTHORITY
However, the liberal Israeli media and the New York Times have had no trouble finding retired leaders of Israelâ€™s military and security services who have been willing speak out in support of Obamaâ€™s opposition to an Israeli first strike. Numerous articles have suggested that Netanyahu and Barak seek to launch an attack on Iran against the advice of Israelâ€™s top military and security chiefs. They reportedly do not believe that the Israeli military has the capability to destroy Iranâ€™s underground uranium-enrichment facilities, and that only the US can destroy them with its heavy, bunker-busting bombs, stealth aircraft and drones.
Last week, there were Israeli media reports that Army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, had advised Netanyahu against a unilateral Israeli first strike.
In response, Netanyahu said in a broadcast interview that he had not yet decided whether or not to attack Iran, but that when the time comes, it will be his decision to make. â€œIn every democracy the decision-maker is the political echelon and the implementer is the professional [military] echelon. That is how it always was and that is how it always will be.”
With regard to repeated US assurances that it would protect Israelâ€™s security, Netanyahu reiterated that Israel retains the right to defend itself, and that with regard to, â€œthings that affect our fate, our very existence, we don’t entrust that to others â€“ not even to our best friends,” he said.
General Gantz denied that he had initiated the media report that he opposes an Israeli first strike. “None of these stories was released by me â€¦ I tell the political echelon what I have to say, and they listen,” Gantz said.
He added that the Israeli military is prepared to launch a first strike against Iran, if ordered to do so by the current Israeli government. â€œAs we see it, ‘all options are on the table’ is not a slogan, it is a working plan and we are doing it.â€
MORE WARNINGS AGAINST AN ATTACK ON IRAN
Over the weekend, Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy and former head of Israeli military intelligence Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash added their voices in opposition to an Israeli attack on Iran.
Halevy said on a news interview program that, “it would not be desirable for Israel to act on its own, and I predict that this will not happen. Israel will not act against its American supporter.”
He added that Israel has other ways to harm Iranâ€™s nuclear program other than by launching a direct military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Halevy also questioned whether an Israeli bombing attack on Iranâ€™s nuclear facilities would be effective. By contrast, he said, “US sanctions are effective, but negotiations with the Iranians have stopped. Today, there is an accumulation of negative things happening to Iran. Because of the international economic pressure and the instability in Syria, Iran’s situation is deteriorating rapidly. Under this pressure, the Iranian regime could easily make an unsound decision which could affect Israel as well.”
AN OCTOBER DEADLINE
In an earlier interview, Halevy told The New York Times, “If I were an Iranian, I would be very fearful of the next 12 weeks,” suggesting that Israel might launch an attack in September or early October, before the onset of the rainy season makes launching successful air attacks in the region much more problematic.
An Israeli official criticized those comments by Halevy as a highly irresponsible attempt to interfere with the ability of Israelâ€™s elected leaders to make their own decisions with regard to the Iranian threat.
Netanyahu said that the current crisis with Iran was similar to the threat which Nazi Germany posed just prior to the start of World War II.
Farkash, who served as head of Israelâ€™s military intelligence from 2001 to 2006, told Israelâ€™s Channel 2 news that â€œI do not know if Israel will attack. The prime minister said he has not decided yet, but from my understanding of the big picture, I can say that it could be soon, within weeks or months,â€.
But while he believes that, because of the risks, Israel should not bomb Iran except as a very last resort, â€œthe Iranians must understand if they do not halt their [nuclear] program, they will eventually provoke an attack which will destroy most of their military capability, possibly from a coalition of countries, including the US in addition to Israel.â€
He also cautioned that if Israel were to attack Iran too soon, â€œit would risk suffering another blow to its â€œhard-won legitimacyâ€ in the eyes of the international community.
FREE SPEECH HAS GONE TOO FAR
However, another former head of Mossad, General Danny Yatom, told Army Radio that he was â€œvery concernedâ€ about the statements being made to the media by the likes of Halevey and Farkash. “These officials should not be presenting their views to the prime minister or defense minister through statements made in the media. This discussion, in my opinion, harms our security,” Yatom said.
But Yatom agrees that if the decision is made to launch a first strike, “I urge Israel to make every effort to coordinate an attack on Iran with the US. Although Israel is a sovereign county and it will eventually make its own decision whether to attack Iran, US support is still important,” he said.
IRANâ€™S MISSILES ARE OVERRATED
Another retired Israeli military intelligence chief, Amos Yadlin, said that the seriousness of the Iranian-Hezbollah missile threat to Israel has been exaggerated. He claims that of the 200,000 rockets they have aimed at Israel, there are only about 1,000 “effective missiles, another 9,000 long-range rockets, but the rest of the 190,000 rockets in the region are inaccurate and short-range.â€
Yadlin, who now heads the Institute for National Security Studies, said at a conference on “Israel’s Homefront Preparedness,”
that in the event of war, Israelâ€™s population centers would likely be hit by more missiles than the Iranian Scuds which landed during the 1991 Gulf War. However, he insisted that the resulting damage to Israeli cities would be limited and manageable because, â€œtoday we have the Arrow [anti-missile system], better intelligence and a better Air Force. Many of the rockets will be stopped, but some of them will indeed hit Israelâ€™s central cities, and we have to be prepared for this.â€
Yadlin suggested that if Tel Aviv, were to suffer casualties due to missiles attacks, Israel would then be free to use its full military might to counterattack without being subject to international criticism.
Yadlin also suggested that Israel might be able to neutralize the Iranian missile threat with a pre-emptive air strike on those missile sites. The model would be Operation Moked, the surprise attack that opened the 1967 Six-Day War, in which the Israeli air force destroyed most of the Egyptian air force on the ground, thus assuring an Israeli victory.
RUMSFELD WARNS NETANYAHU NOT TO TRUST OBAMA
While Panetta was in Israel counseling Netanyahu to give sanctions more time to work, and to hold off on any attack on Iran, Bush-era Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that he agrees with Netanyahu that international sanctions have failed to influence the Iranian regime. Rumsfeld said that if he were Israelâ€™s prime minister, he would not notify the US in advance of a strike on Iran.
Rumsfeld told Fox News that he has no faith in sanctions to influence dictatorial regimes such as Iran. He also agreed that Israelâ€™s leaders must make their own decision about attacking Iran.
“I think any prime minister of Israel who gets up every morning and reads in the newspaper that the leadership of Iran says that the Israeli state should be annihilated, eradicated, incinerated, has to know that it’s that prime minister’s responsibility to see that that doesn’t happen.
“If I were in the Israeli government, I don’t think I would notify the United States government of any intent to do anything about Iran. I think that their [Israel’s] relationship with the United States is such that it conceivably could leak out,â€ Rumsfeld said. He also said that an Israeli first strike did not need to destroy every Iranian nuclear site in order to be effective in sufficiently delaying its nuclear program.
Rumsfeld also argued that it is in the strategic interests of the US to intervene more forcefully against the Assad regime, in order to strike a blow against the Syria-Iran alliance.
“Syria and Iran are linked at the hip. They are terribly damaging to our country. They support Hamas. They support Hezbollah. They support other terrorist organizations. They are harmful to us in Iraq. They are harmful to us in Afghanistan. And they are harmful in the region,” Rumsfeld.
ISRAEL UPGRADING ITS MISSILE DEFENSES
Israel is continuing to upgrade the capabilities of its Arrow II missile defense system. It is currently deploying the new “block-4” generation of Arrow interceptor rockets, radars and control systems that will increase its accuracy and range.
The first generation of the Arrow became operational in 2000. The system is designed to intercept long range Iranian ballistic missiles at altitudes high enough to destroy non-conventional warheads, containing nuclear or chemical weapons, safely. It was developed by Israel in a technology and cost sharing partnership with the Pentagon and Boeing. By contrast, the newer Iron Dome short range missile defense was developed entirely by Israel, but with substantial US financial assistance.
Congress and the Obama administration recently approved more funding to increase the number of Iron Dome batteries defending the cities of southern Israel against missile attacks from Gaza.
A former director of the Arrow program, Uzi Rubin, told Army Radio that the current system can handle any missile launched at Israel from Iran.
â€œI canâ€™t say that every incoming missile will be knocked down. There is no such thing as 100 percent protection, but for every long range missile that Iran can launch there is at least one Arrow missile capable of intercepting it.â€
Israel is continuing to develop improved missile defense systems. The Arrow III, which is expected to become operational by 2015, will be capable of engaging incoming missiles in space, using detachable warheads that will be capable of independently seeking out and slamming into targets.
Israel is also working on a more powerful short range rocket interceptor to augment the Iron Dome system called David’s Sling. It is expected to be available next year. Together, these systems will provide Israel with a multi-tiered missile defense shield.
IRAN CLAIMS TO BE IMPROVING ITS MISSILES
At the same time, Iran has been working to improve its arsenal of offensive ballistic missiles. It claims to have successfully test-fired an upgraded version of its Fateh-110 short range ballistic missile in the Kavir Desert in July. It claims that the missile is now capable of hitting any target on land or sea with pin-point accuracy.
Iranâ€™s Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said that the missile now has an extended range of “more than 190 miles, and can be fired at “targets in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman as well as land-based targets.” But it does not have sufficient range to hit Israeli targets which are more than 800 miles away.
As tensions with Israel and the United States have increased over the past year, Iran has held frequent missile tests and military exercises to try to intimidate its enemies.
Despite Iranâ€™s latest military boasts, the US Navy believes that it is still capable of protecting the tanker traffic in the Persian Gulf against Iranian attacks, and the Israeli military has had years to develop and perfect its attack plans against Iranâ€™s nuclear facilities.
MORE IRANIAN THREATS AGAINST ISRAEL
Meanwhile, Iranâ€™s leaders have kept up a steady stream of public threats and anti-Semitic statements, vowing to destroy Israel.
Last week, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a speech to ambassadors from Islamic countries said that Zionists had been manipulating world affairs for “about 400 years” with their â€œbehind the scene control of the worldâ€™s leading powers, media, monetary and banking centers.â€
Ahmadinejad said that “liberating Palestine” would solve all the world’s problems, and that “anyone who loves freedom and justice must strive for the annihilation of the Zionist regime in order to pave the way for world justice and freedom.â€
He also accused Israel of being responsible for the current â€œplotsâ€ against Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, and Turkey. His remarks were in preparation for ‘Qods [Jerusalem] Day’ an annual Iranian festival of anti-Semitism which falls this year on August 17.
IRAN WARNS ISRAEL AGAINST SYRIAN INVOLVEMENT
On Sunday, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani, warned that the civil war in Syria could engulf Israel as well. He also accused the US and Arab countries of providing support for the rebels seeking to overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has been a key ally in Iranâ€™s effort to extend its dominance over the region.
“What really allows these countries to interfere in internal Syrian affairs?” Larijani asked.
The accusations is hypocritical in light of numerous reports from the Syrian opposition that Iran has sent arms, Hezbollah terrorists and members of Iranâ€™s Revolutionary Guards to help Assad fight the rebels.
On Sunday, Iran claimed that Syrian rebels had kidnapped a busload of 48 Iranian pilgrims on the way back to the airport after visiting a Shiite shrine in Damascus.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) responded that they had found documents indicating that some of the â€œpilgrimsâ€ were actually officers in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. An FSA officer said that all those on the bus were part of a force of 150 that was sent on a reconnaissance mission for the Assad regime in Damascus, and which the FSA had been tracking for the past two months. He added that, â€œWe warn Iran that we will target all its installations in Syria… The fate of all Iranians working in Syria will be just like the fate of those, either prisoners, or dead.â€
Iran denies that it has sent its fighters to help Assad. Iranâ€™s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said last week that “terrorist groups” supported by foreign forces were operating in Damascus and Aleppo. He said that “tens of thousands of weapons” had entered Syria from neighboring countries and were being used by groups including al-Qaeda. “Unfortunately America and regional countries … do not take steps to control the borders,” he added.
The Iranian minister doubted that Syria would be attacked by foreign powers, but expressed confidence that if it were, Syria would not need Iran’s help.
“Syria has been ready for years to respond to any military attack against it by (Israel) or other countries, and can respond strongly to any military action by itself,” he said.