Sunday, June 22, 2008

News Digest: The Israeli "Dry Run" on Iran's Nuclear Facilities

Looks like there would be a side benefit from an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities: the blind, toothless UN atomic "watchdog" -- Mohamed El Baradei -- promised to resign if Iran is targeted.

US officials reported on Friday that more than 100 Israeli F-16s and F-15s staged a complex operation over the Mediterranean during the first week of June. The aircraft traversed more than 900 miles, about the distance from Israel to Iran's Natanz nuclear enrichment facility; the exercise also tested the refueling of planes and helicopters tasked with rescuing downed pilots.

El Baradei wasn't pleased.

He warned that any attack on Iran would turn the entire Middle East "into a fireball."

"I don't believe that what I see in Iran today is a current, grave and urgent danger. If a military strike is carried out against Iran at this time ... it would make me unable to continue my work," he said.

El Baradei, of course, insists that there's no evidence Iran is actually building atomic weapons (as recently as May); criticized Israel for flattening Syria's nuclear reactor (but did not criticize North Korea or Syria itself); and even pilloried the US for not sharing the intelligence with the IAEA.

Iran's response: Earlier today AFP reported that Iran promised any attack on its facilities would warrant a "limitless response." Bemoaning Israel's efforts as "psychological operations," Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar stated that Iran would "punish any aggressor with force. With determination and using all the options -- without limit in time and space -- we will give a destructive response to any hostile action."

Russia's response: as Iran's preeminent nuclear technology supplier, Russia is concerned with its cash flow. It also warned Israel not to attack. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov instructed Israel not to use force, claiming there is no proof Iran is trying to acquire atomic weapons.

Israeli media: Many believe that the US leak of the information was a warning shot over Tehran's bow. Alex Fishman, the military affairs correspondent of Israel's biggest newspaper, said "[w]hen the diplomacy of economic and political pressure fails to produce results, a shift is made to gunboat diplomacy... As the Iranian regime discusses the European Union representative's most recent offer to halt its nuclear program in exchange for extensive benefits, the Americans opted to add a bit more pressure in the shape of Israel's air force."

Stratfor: The well-known research firm's summary is succinct: "Israel is deliberately leaking reports that it plans to attack Iran's nuclear facilities in order to shape Iranian behavior. An actual attack would not be announced and would face significant obstacles."

John Bolton: On Sunday, former US ambassador John Bolton was asked how Iran might respond to an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities. He stated that Iran's options are limited and, in his opinion, most Arab countries would prefer to see its nuclear ambitions thwarted. As for timing, Bolton felt it would come between the presidential election in early November and the inauguration in January.

No comments: