Israel sends powerful signals

While the U.S. and its European allies are desperately seeking an agreement with Russia aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Israel last week sent three powerful signals that it is preparing itself for the possibility that Iran does become a nuclear power.

In the presence of Israeli and American scientists, high-tech and air force personnel, Israel launched its improved version of the Arrow anti-missile missile on Friday. The Arrow hit its target over the Mediterranean, at a distance equal to the range of the Iranian “Shihab-3″ missile. When it becomes operational, the Shihab-3, equipped with a nuclear warhead, can reach Israel and every American target in the Persian Gulf region.

This was Israel’s 14th test of the improved version of the American-financed Arrow and the most successful of them.

After rectifying minor navigation errors and enhancing further its range, the Arrow could become Israel’s effective shield against Iran’s missiles.

Equally dramatic was the formal German decision to equip the Israeli navy with two additional Dolphin-class submarines. This was one of the last decisions of Gerhard Schroeder before he handed over the chancellery to Angela Merkel. Germany will “gift” a third of the submarines’ costs.

The Israeli navy already has three subs of this type. The new Dolphins are to be equipped with torpedo-tubes capable of launching cruise missiles – with conventional or nuclear warheads. The new subs can be submerged for many weeks. Because of their speed and enhanced technology, the Dolphins are also difficult to detect.

The use of the submarines in the Indian Ocean, off the Iranian coast, could spare Israel the need to fly over Arab countries — as it did in 1981, when it flew over Jordan to destroy the Iraqi nuclear reactor near Baghdad.

An Israeli attack from a submarine in the Indian Ocean could spare the U.S. and the Arab countries lots of embarrassment.

Finally, the third “signal.” Although the “secret” was known to many people, Israel allowed the publication Friday of news that Israeli companies are building in Kurdistan a new military and civilian airport. The building and the modern equipment are financed by the U.S.

Needless to say, should the Bush administration or any future administration decide to strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities, this airport in northern-Iraq, close to the Iranian border, could serve as the launching pad for such an attack.

These three signals were accompanied by rare public warnings from Israel’s top political and military leaders.

Addressing the chief editors of the Israeli media last Thursday, on the occasion of the 58th anniversary of the 1947 UN Resolution to establish the Jewish state, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said: “Israel would not allow Iran to become a nuclear power. Of course there exists a military option, but we prefer to exhaust first all diplomatic options. Israel is a ‘partner’ in this effort but does not lead it.”

Israel’s chief of general staff, Gen. Dan Halutz, was even more blunt. Briefing foreign correspondents in Tel Aviv on Sunday, Halutz said: “Iran’s determination to acquire nuclear capabilities is unacceptable. There are, of course, military options but these were not considered yet…”

Israel’s public warnings, combined with several operational signals, came against a background of growing Israeli doubts about the outcome of the diplomatic effort that is now being explored by Russia and Europe.

Israeli leaders have become frustrated by Iran’s ability to fend off, time after time, the international pressure.

Israel considers Iran’s nuclear plans as an “existential threat.” Nevertheless, for obvious reasons, Israel preferred until now to keep its doubts to itself. Not anymore. The fact that both Sharon and Gen. Halutz preferred to say at the same time that Israel will not allow Iran to become nuclear, together with the timing of its three signals indicate that Israel cannot remain silent in face of a growing fear that the world – including the U.S. – is giving the impression that it has given up on stopping Iran’s bomb.

Israel believes that Iran’s plans are not only an “Israeli affair” but a subject that affects the security of the U.S. and all the Arab countries.

Therefore, and in an unprecedented move, AIPAC – the powerful pro-Israeli lobby in Washington, lashed out last week against the American handling of the Iranian file. Attacking the U.S. decision not to refer Iran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions, AIPAC said: “We disagree with this decision. It poses a severe danger to the U.S. and our allies and puts American national interests at risk. The American decision allows Iran to win a critical round in its game of cat and mouse with the international community.”

Nevertheless, the U.S. is unlikely to change its current decision that it will not turn to the UN Security Council unless it is absolutely certain that its draft resolution will not be vetoed by Russia and China. Therefore, the U.S. is now engaged on two parallel diplomatic tracks. Relying on past Russian and Chinese assurances that Moscow and Beijing are opposed to Iran’s nuclear plans, the U.S. has joined its European allies in supporting the Russian proposal that Iran be allowed to produce nuclear fuel precursors, but these precursors will be shipped for enrichment in Russia. Should Iran reject the Russian proposal, Washington hopes Russia and China would join in having the security council impose economic sanctions on Iran.

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Israel readies forces for strike on nuclear Iran