Sunday, July 13, 2008

Israel hints at pre-emptive attack on Iran


From the Independent; Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, noted pointedly that while diplomatic pressure remained the preferred way of persuading Iran to halt uranium enrichment, Israel "has proved in the past it is not afraid to take action when its vital security interests are at stake".

Not by coincidence, the country also put on display one of its state-of-the-art Eitam spy aircraft, whose intelligence-gathering abilities would be vital in any co-ordinated assault on Iran's nuclear installations. This latest publicity only reinforces the message sent by Israel's recent military air exercises over the eastern Mediterranean, widely seen as a dress rehearsal for such an attack.

Most analysts believe that for all bellicose talk, a pre-emptive attack, by the US at least, is most unlikely. "Everyone recognises what the consequences of a conflict would be," the Defence Secretary Robert Gates warned, among them possible closure of the oil lifeline through the Strait of Hormuz, the risk of generalised war in the Middle East and immense new strains on the fragile global economy.

Pentagon commanders too do not want to plunge the country's overstretched armed forces into another war. An attack would be "extremely stressful" for US forces, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the country's top uniformed officer, warned a few days ago.

But the jitters have been increased by the political calendar in Washington and Jerusalem. From a US perspective, if the Bush administration is to strike, it probably has to do so before the general election campaign moves into high gear this autumn. The possibility – many would say likelihood – that the next President will be the Democrat, Barack Obama, who favours negotiation with Iran, only heightens the urgency for anti-Iran hawks.

In Jerusalem, a corruption scandal could bring down the Mr Omert's government in September. This is another reason for Israel, if it is determined to go ahead, to act sooner rather than later, even alone and without the explicit collaboration of the US.