Sunday, January 07, 2007

To Believe or not to Believe, that is the Question.

A recent article in the London Sunday Times claimed that Israel was preparing a limited nuclear strike on Iranian targets. The report went on to claim that Israeli air force squadrons were training to attack the different sites in Iran attempting to produce materials for an Iranian atom bomb.

A Sunday morning interview with an expert on Israeli weaponry on Israel Galei Tzhal radio channel dissed this report as just more sensational hype by the Sunday Times.

The expert said that the Sunday Times has frequently made claims over the years which captured the imagination of the reader but had little if any substance in fact.

This expert went on to say that the real attack at this point may well be psychological, launched by the Israeli military intelligence in an effort to rattle the cage and courage of the Iranians.

Another report on Israel TV recently explored the difficulties Israel would have striking Iran. The report focused on the Iraqi strike in 1981 in which a squadron of Israeli jets flew to Iraq and destroyed the nascent nuclear reactor. In that instance there was only one reactor, and it was above ground.

The comparison to the Iranian scenario is vastly different. Iran has reportedly over 300 locations scattered around the country developing different aspects of the process needed to make a bomb. Many of these locations are deep underground beneath steel or cement protection. It is also widely assumed that Iran has many locations that are as yet unknown.

Former Prime Minister, now Deputy Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, has said that Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East. It must also be remembered that Tehran is close enough to Israel that nuclear fallout might be blown into Israel. Also, since no other nation has exploded a nuclear weapon since the US used the bomb to force the Japanese to surrender in WWII, it is highly unlikely that image conscious Israel would be the only the second country in history to use the 'bomb.'

Then there is the retribution. Iran has a large army, including an airforce, navy and ground forces. Coupled with Hezbollah on the Lebanese border, and supported by Syria, Iran could begin a conventional war against Israel, invading from both Syria and Lebanon. Syrian missiles in both Iranian and Hezbollah hands would rain down on Israel, this time the longer range N. Korean missiles, probably tipped with chemical and/or biological warheads. And as the Sunday Times reports, there would be the other moves by Iran, including strikes against US and Jewish targets inside and outside the Middle East.

In short, no one is rushing to attack Iran, neither the Israelis nor the Americans.

A recent article in the Jerusalem Post pointed out that over the last two years accidents have befallen the Iranian military leadership. A little over a year ago a small business jet carrying a number of the highest ranking Islamic Revolutionary Guard officers crashed, killing all aboard. The head of the Iranian missile program was one of those killed. The second crash took out many high-ranking Revolutionary Guard officers. Some speculate that the accidents weren't accidents. However both crashes did gouge a hole in Iranian military efficiency.

One Israeli military analyst has strongly suggested that Tehran's nuclear program will not be operational for a few years. As usual, the Israeli intelligence community is split on this, with the Mossad saying one thing and Military intelligence saying something else. This traditional rivalry between the two branches does nothing to calm the unease in the country. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War the Military Intelligence branch of the Army repeatedly ignored reports and then urgent warnings of an imminent Egyptian attack. Some speculate that the legendary Israeli arrogance might again be overlooking obvious facts in place of preconceived notions.

Reportedly two separate and distinct armies exist in Iran, the formal army and a shadow army answerable to the Islamic leaders. The latter is called the Revolutionary Guard. The latter supports President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The supreme ruler of Iran however is Sheik Kamani, who reportedly is not as gung-ho about destroying Israel and the Jews, nor fighting with the American devil, as the fiery president. It must be remembered that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was one of the radicals who captured the US Embassy staff in 1979 in Tehran.

Israelis are worried by the threats made by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Israel's former PM Netanyahu has said repeatedly he takes the Iranian President at his word when he says he wants to destroy Israel. Given Iran's clear support of Hezbollah in last summer's war, this seems like an obvious conclusion.

The introduction of nuclear arms into the Middle East will set off a race. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have already made it clear they'd seek nuclear weapons if Iran develops them. Should Israel go public with their nuclear arsenal, this too would be a spur to a Middle Eastern nuclear arms race. In view of these issues, it is unlikely Israel will use nuclear weapons if and when an attack is launched against Iran.

How much of what is now in the Israeli and international press is disinformation, and how much fact, is open to speculation and interpretation. A faint glimmer of hope appears now and then when some 'resistance' group appears in Iran supposedly in opposition to the hard-line Islamic regime.

The legendary Israeli ability to strike hard and fast has clearly been blunted over the last several decades, as witnessed by Israel's performance in the last War in Lebanon. It is unclear if Israel can still pull off those same stunts that captured the world's imagination, like the bombing of the Iraqi reactor, the hijacking of the missile boats at Cherbourg, or the pre-emptive strike against the Egyptian Airforce in 67.

If they do manage to resuscitate the old mix of Israeli bravado and intelligent planning and somehow neutralize Iran's nuclear capability, the Western world will certainly thank them.