Friday, June 20, 2008

Israel's military won't confirm or deny report on practice run for Iran strike

JERUSALEM (AP): Israel's military refused to confirm or deny Friday a report that its warplanes staged a major rehearsal for an attack on Iran early this month.

A New York Times report published Friday quoted U.S. officials as saying more than 100 Israeli F-16s and F-15s staged the maneuver over the eastern Mediterranean and Greece in the first week of June. It said the aircraft flew more than 900 miles, roughly the distance from Israel to Iran's Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, and that the exercise included refueling tankers and helicopters capable of rescuing downed pilots.

Asked to comment on the report, the military issued a statement saying only that the Israeli air force "regularly trains for various missions in order to confront and meet the challenges posed by the threats facing Israel."

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev offered no comment beyond the military's statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he prefers that Iran's nuclear ambitions be halted by diplomatic means, but has pointedly declined to rule out military action.

In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel published on Wednesday, Olmert said the current international sanctions against Iran would probably not succeed alone, saying there were "many things that can be done economically, politically, diplomatically and militarily."

Asked if Israel was capable of taking military action against Iran, Olmert said, "Israel always has to be in a position to defend itself against any adversary and against any threat of any kind."

Israeli military analyst Martin Van Creveld of Jerusalem's Hebrew University said military preparations for a possible attack are indeed under way.

"Israel has been talking about this possibility for a long time, that it would not take an Iranian nuclear weapon lying down. And it has been practicing the operation or operations for a long time," he said.

But though an Israeli strike would likely be able to "paralyze the most important Iranian nuclear installations," it probably won't be able to destroy the program entirely, Van Creveld said. "I would be very surprised if Israel can really knock out every part of this program, which by all accounts appears to be large and well concealed and well dispersed," he said.

The New York Times report quotes an anonymous Pentagon official as saying the rehearsal was meant both to hone the air force's abilities and to demonstrate to the U.S. and others that Israel might take action on its own if the international efforts targeting Iran fail.

"They wanted us to know, they wanted the Europeans to know, and they wanted the Iranians to know," the official said. "There's a lot of signaling going on at different levels."

There are precedents for unilateral Israeli action in such cases. In 1981, Israeli jets bombed Iraq's Osirak nuclear facility to end dictator Saddam Hussein's nuclear program. And last September Israel bombed a facility in Syria that U.S. officials have said was a nuclear reactor being constructed with North Korean assistance.

A U.S. intelligence report released late last year concluded that Iran has suspended its nuclear weapons program, but Israeli intelligence believes that assessment is incorrect and that work is continuing......

Can I say I told you so now?


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