Israel Bolsters Its Ability To Strike Iran

In this Dec. 27, 2007 photo, an Israeli Air Force fighter plane lands during an acrobatics display at a graduation ceremony at the Hatzerim Air Force Base near the southern Israeli city of Beersheba.
AP Photo/Kevin Frayer
Israel is building up its strike capabilities amid growing anxiety over Iran's nuclear ambitions and appears confident that a military attack would cripple Tehran's atomic program, even if it can't destroy it.

Such talk could be more threat than reality. However, Iran's refusal to accept Western conditions is worrying Israel as is the perception that Washington now prefers diplomacy over confrontation with Tehran.

The Jewish state has purchased 90 F-16I fighter planes that can carry enough fuel to reach Iran, and will receive 11 more by the end of next year. It has bought two new Dolphin submarines from Germany reportedly capable of firing nuclear-armed warheads - in addition to the three it already has.

And this summer it carried out air maneuvers in the Mediterranean that touched off an international debate over whether they were a "dress rehearsal" for an imminent attack, a stern warning to Iran or a just a way to get allies to step up the pressure on Tehran to stop building nukes.

According to foreign media reports, Israeli intelligence is active inside Iranian territory. Israel's military censor, who can impose a range of legal sanctions against journalists operating in the country, does not permit publication of details of such information in news reports written from Israel.

The issue of Iran's nuclear program took on new urgency this week after U.S. officials rejected Tehran's response to an incentives package aimed at getting it to stop sensitive nuclear activity - setting the stage for a fourth round of international sanctions against the country.

Israel, itself an undeclared nuclear power, sees an atomic bomb in Iranian hands as a direct threat to its existence.

Israel believes Tehran will have enriched enough uranium for a nuclear bomb by next year or 2010 at the latest. The United States has trimmed its estimate that Iran is several years or as much as a decade away from being able to field a bomb, but has not been precise about a timetable. In general U.S. officials think Iran isn't as close to a bomb as Israel claims, but are concerned that Iran is working faster than anticipated to add centrifuges, the workhorses of uranium enrichment.

"If Israeli, U.S., or European intelligence gets proof that Iran has succeeded in developing nuclear weapons technology, then Israel will respond in a manner reflecting the existential threat posed by such a weapon," said Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, speaking at a policy forum in Washington last week.

"Israel takes (Iranian President) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statements regarding its destruction seriously. Israel cannot risk another Holocaust," Mofaz said.

The Iranian leader has in the past called for Israel's elimination, though his exact remarks have been disputed. Some translators say he called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," while others say a better translation would be "vanish from the pages of time" - implying Israel would disappear on its own rather than be destroyed.

Iran insists its uranium enrichment is meant only for electricity generation, not a bomb - an assertion that most Western nations see as disingenuous.

In other developments:

  • The Israeli military said Wednesday an officer filmed ordering a soldier to abuse a bound and blindfolded Palestinian prisoner has resigned his command of an army battalion but would continue to serve elsewhere. A military statement said Lt.Col. Omri Borberg asked to be removed from his post in the wake of the incident in the West Bank when a soldier shot a captured Palestinian demonstrator in the foot with a rubber-coated bullet from close range. Human rights group B'Tselem, which publicized the video, issued a statement deploring the military's decision not to press criminal charges.
  • Israel's prime minister pledged to free more than 150 Palestinian prisoners in a meeting Wednesday with President Mahmoud Abbas, a gesture meant to energize their sluggish peace talks. The release could also boost the prestige of the embattled Palestinian leader, whose Fatah movement is engaged in a tense power struggle with the militant Islamic Hamas. The meeting at Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's official Jerusalem residence was the first since the Israeli premier announced last week that he would resign next month because of corruption investigations against him.
  • There's a new songwriter in cyberspace: Israel's president, Shimon Peres. And composers from countries including Iran are writing music for his song, `Ray of Hope.' Aide Yoram Dori said Peres wrote the song a year ago. It's about peace, his favorite theme. Peres, who's 84, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. Peres posted his lyrics on Songweavers.com, a site that connects lyricists and composers. Among the dozens who wrote music was Sadri Ghandehari from Tehran, Iran. Israel and Iran are bitter enemies.

    Israeli policymakers and experts have been debating for quite some time whether it would even be possible for Israel to take out Iran's nuclear program. The mission would be far more complicated than a 1981 Israeli raid that destroyed Iraq's partially built Osirak nuclear reactor, or an Israeli raid last year on what U.S. intelligence officials said was another unfinished nuclear facility in Syria.