Israel prepares for Iran military option

(CBS News) TEL AVIV, Israel - The plug is about to be pulled on Iran's financial lifeline. On Thursday, an organization called SWIFT, which handles most international money transactions, moved to cut Iran out of the system.

It is the latest and most severe step yet to try to cripple Iran's economy and force the country to end its nuclear program.

If these latest sanctions don't work, a military strike would be one of the few options left, something Israel is already preparing for, as CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips reports.

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The Israeli military has been practicing for what many here fear is an inevitable confrontation with Iran. They are holding drills to rehearse decontaminating victims in the case of a chemical weapons attack.

They are also preparing for a possible missile attack from Iran or its allies on Israel's borders -- Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza.

Israeli Homeland Command Lt. Col. Yonathan Raz says these exercises have a new sense of urgency. When asked if things are more tense, he replied, "In the Middle East it's always tense." Now things are getting tenser.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has now told Israel's parliament he's prepared to act alone in dealing with the Iranian threat, with or without U.S. support. Israel has acted on its own before.

In 1981, it attacked a reactor being built in Iraq when it feared Saddam Hussein was trying to develop nuclear weapons. The man who led that mission, former Israeli Air Force Pilot, Zeev Raz, understands the tough talk now.

"They have no choice, said Raz."What can they do? Sit and see if Iran becomes nuclear?" Which is why they are preparing for the worst.

The Israeli government's argument can be summed up in the old advertising line, "Pay me now or pay me more later". The cost in lives of a strike against Iran now would be nothing compared to the cost of having a hostile Iran with nukes.

With Iran's nuclear facilities being increasingly buried in deep underground bunkers, proponents of an attack say they cannot wait to see if sanctions bite or if the U.S. might join in.

They say that there's a time to act and it is running out. Public opinion is split in Israel on whether or not to launch an attack, but both sides agree the effect would be limited, merely delaying Iran's nuclear program.

Another option is now being openly discussed is threatening a nuclear Iran with retaliation from Israel's own, never acknowledged, nuclear arsenal. That would create, in effect, a new Middle Eastern balance of terror.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent, based in London.