Israeli war talk

Israel threatens military strike on Iran

President Shimon Peres has threatened that Israel will take military action against Iran if talks proposed by the US president Barack Obama fail to halt Iran’s nuclear programme. In an interview on the Israeli Kol Hai radio station on Sunday, Mr Peres warned that if the talks don’t soften the approach of the Iranian president, “we’ll strike him”.

Mr Peres ruled out the possibility of Israel engaging in a unilateral attack, and said: “We certainly cannot go it alone, without the US, and we definitely can’t go against the US. This would be unnecessary.”

The Israeli president’s statement comes just a few days after the US Vice President Joe Biden issued a high-level warning to Israel’s new government that it would be “ill advised” to launch a military strike against Iran.

Mr Peres also suggested that the arrest last week of 49 alleged agents of Hizbollah by Egyptian authorities was a blow to the Iranian president’s ambitions. [continued…]

Editor’s CommentIsrael threatens to attack Iran has become a dog-bites-man story. What’s significant here is that Peres went out of his way to say that Israel will not go it alone. An attack either gets US backing or it’s not going to happen.

The subtext here is that the Israelis are becoming genuinely afraid of a US-Israeli rift. And the driving force behind this rift is one that the Israel lobby is powerless to rein in: Avigdor Lieberman.

The diplomatic sleight of hand that the Israelis love to play is to gloss over disagreements and brush away criticisms by suggesting that the differences only exist in the eye of the beholder — that Israel and the US are of one heart, indivisible. But no one makes this posture more difficult than Lieberman, a man who is now too powerful to dismiss as a somewhat harmless embarrassment.

As Douglas Bloomfield wrote in the Jerusalem Post on Sunday, Lieberman “could do what the Arabs and their supporters could only dream of – drive a wedge between Americans and Israel.”

Netanyahu and threat of bombing Iran — the bluff that never stops giving?

Israel does not have the military capability to successfully eliminate Iran’s nuclear program. Even the most successful bombing campaign would only set back the known program for a few years — without affecting any potential clandestine program. This is not classified information. Military experts are well aware of Israel’s capabilities — and its limits.

Yet, the threat of military action, or rather the bluff, serves a purpose: Threats of military action militarizes the atmosphere. It creates an environment that renders diplomacy less likely to succeed — it may even prevent diplomacy from being pursued in the first place.

In the Iranian case, Netanyahu’s tough talk undermines the Obama administration’s prospects for diplomacy in the following ways.

Getting to the negotiating table has proven an arduous task for the US and Iran. Both sides are currently testing each other’s intentions, asking themselves if the other side is serious about diplomacy or if the perceived desire for talks is merely a tactical maneuver to either buy time or build greater international support for more confrontational policies down the road. From Tehran’s perspective, uncertainty about Washington’s intentions during the Bush administration was partly fueled by the insistence of the military option remaining on the table. Tehran seemed to fear entering negotiations that could have been designed to fail, since that could strengthen the case for military action against Iran. [continued…]

U.S. may drop key condition for talks with Iran

The Obama administration and its European allies are preparing proposals that would shift strategy toward Iran by dropping a longstanding American insistence that Tehran rapidly shut down nuclear facilities during the early phases of negotiations over its atomic program, according to officials involved in the discussions.

The proposals, exchanged in confidential strategy sessions with European allies, would press Tehran to open up its nuclear program gradually to wide-ranging inspection. But the proposals would also allow Iran to continue enriching uranium for some period during the talks. That would be a sharp break from the approach taken by the Bush administration, which had demanded that Iran halt its enrichment activities, at least briefly to initiate negotiations.

The proposals under consideration would go somewhat beyond President Obama’s promise, during the presidential campaign, to open negotiations with Iran “without preconditions.” Officials involved in the discussion said they were being fashioned to draw Iran into nuclear talks that it had so far shunned.

A review of Iran policy that Mr. Obama ordered after taking office is still under way, and aides say it is not clear how long he would be willing to allow Iran to continue its fuel production, and at what pace. But European officials said there was general agreement that Iran would not accept the kind of immediate shutdown of its facilities that the Bush administration had demanded. [continued…]

Iran says it controls entire nuclear fuel cycle

Iran now controls the entire cycle for producing nuclear fuel with the opening of a new facility to produce uranium fuel pellets, the Iranian president said Saturday.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made the speech two days after the inauguration of the facility which produces uranium oxide pellets for a planned 40-megawatt heavy-water nuclear reactor near the town of Arak, central Iran.

Production of nuclear fuel pellets is the final step in the long, complicated chain of nuclear fuel cycle. The U.S. and its allies have expressed concern over Iran’s developing nuclear program for fear it masks a nuclear weapons program — a charge Iran denies. [continued…]

Differences with US on Mideast ‘semantic’: Israel

Differences between Israel and the United States over the Middle East conflict are fundamentally semantic and will be harmonised within a few weeks, an Israeli minister said on Saturday.

“There are differences of approach toward the problems in the Middle East between our government and the administration of (US President Barack) Obama, but they point more to wording and semantics than to reality,” Transport Minister Israel Katz told public radio.

Israel’s hawkish new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “has already had meetings with American leaders, and our policies will converge,” he added. [continued…]

Israel lobbies Russia on Iranian arms sales

Israel has lobbied Russia to pull away from selling a strategic air-defense system to Iran but has received only vague assurances, Israeli defense sources said on Monday.

Last week Israel agreed to supply surveillance drones worth $50 million to Russia. The Israeli Haaretz newspaper said this followed a pledge by Moscow not to sell Iran the S-300, which could protect Iranian nuclear facilities against air strikes.

An Israeli defense official said he had no knowledge of such an undertaking by Russia in its talks with Israel on the matter. Moscow has given mixed messages on the prospects of Iran buying S-300s, a deal one Russian newspaper valued at $800 million. [continued…]

U.S. troops take part in Israel X-Band radar test

U.S. troops took part in a missile defense exercise in Israel last week that for the first time incorporated a U.S.-owned radar system deployed to the country in October.

About 100 Europe-based troops continue to operate the X-Band radar, which is intended to give Israel early warning in the event of a missile launch from Iran.

While it’s not a permanent assignment for U.S. troops, as long as the radar is in use, U.S. personnel will be there to operate it, U.S. European Command said. [continued…]

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