Fears Israel may attack Iran nukes

2012-02-05 22:34

Jerusalem - For the first time in nearly two decades of escalating tensions over Iran's nuclear programme, world leaders are genuinely concerned that an Israeli military attack on the Islamic Republic could be imminent - an action that many fear might trigger a wider war, terrorism and global economic havoc.

High-level foreign dignitaries, including the UN chief and the head of the American military, have stopped in Israel in recent weeks, urging leaders to give the diplomatic process more time to work.

But US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has reportedly concluded that an Israeli attack on Iran is likely in the coming months.

Despite harsh economic sanctions and international pressure, Iran is refusing to abandon its nuclear programme, which it insists is purely civilian, and threatening Israel and the West.

It's beginning to cause jitters in world capitals and financial markets.

"Of course I worry that there will be a military conflict," Britain's deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, said in a magazine interview last week.

He said Britain was "straining every single sinew to resolve this through a combination of pressure and engagement", rather than military action.

Is Israel bluffing? Israeli leaders have been claiming Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons since the early 1990s, and defence officials have issued a series of ever-changing estimates on how close Iran is to the bomb.

But the saber-rattling has become much more direct and vocal.

Action may be needed

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu frequently draws parallels between modern-day Iran and Nazi Germany on the eve of the Holocaust.

On Thursday, Defence Minister Ehud Barak claimed during a high-profile security conference that there is a "wide global understanding" that military action may be needed.

"There is no argument about the intolerable danger a nuclear Iran [would pose] to the future of the Middle East, the security of Israel and to the economic and security stability of the entire world," Barak said.

A day earlier, visiting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon implored Israel to find a peaceful solution to the nuclear stand-off.

Israel views Iran as a mortal threat, citing Iranian calls for Israel's destruction, Iran's support for anti-Israel militant groups and Iranian missile technology capable of hitting Israel.

On Friday, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called Israel a "cancerous tumour that should be cut and will be cut", and boasted of supporting any group that will challenge the Jewish state.

When faced with such threats, Israeli has a history of lashing out in the face of world opposition.

That legacy that includes the game-changing 1967 Middle East war, which left Israel in control of vast Arab lands, a brazen 1981 air strike that destroyed an unfinished Iraqi nuclear reactor, and a stealthy 2007 air strike in Syria that is believed to have destroyed a nuclear reactor in the early stages of construction.

Has capability

Armed with a fleet of ultramodern US-made fighter planes and unmanned drones, and reportedly possessing intermediate-range Jericho missiles, Israel has the capability to take action against Iran too, though it would carry grave risks.

It would require flying over Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria or Turkey. It is uncertain whether any of these Muslim countries would knowingly allow Israel to use their airspace.

With targets some 1 600km away, Israeli planes would likely have the complicated task of refuelling in flight. Iran's antiquated air force, however, is unlikely to provide much of a challenge.

Many in the region cannot believe Israel would take such a step without a green light from the United States, its most important ally. That sense is deepened by the heightened stakes of a US election year and the feeling that if Israel acts alone, the West would not escape unscathed.

The US has been trying to push both sides, leading the charge for international sanctions while also pressing Israel to give the sanctions more time.

In recent weeks, both the US and European Union have imposed harsher sanctions on Iran's oil sector, the lifeblood of its economy, and its central bank. Israeli officials say they want the sanctions to be imposed faster and for more countries to join them.

Last week, The Associated Press reported that officials in Israel - all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss Iran - were concerned that the measures, while welcome, were constraining Israel in its ability to act because the world expected the effort to be given a chance.

Even a limited Israeli operation could well unleash region wide fighting. Iran could launch its Shihab 3 missiles at Israel, and have its local proxies, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, unleash rockets.

Israel's military intelligence chief, Aviv Kochavi, warned last week that Israel's enemies possess some 200 000 rockets.

While sustained rocket and missile fire would certainly make life uncomfortable in Israel, Barak himself has said he believes casualties would be low - suggesting it would be in the hundreds.

Islamabad will support Tehran

Iran might also try to attack Western targets in the region, including the thousands of US forces based in the Gulf with the 5th Fleet.

An Israeli attack might have other unintended consequences. A European diplomat based in Pakistan, permitted to speak only under condition of anonymity, said that if Israel attacks, Islamabad will have no choice but to support any Iranian retaliation.

That raises the spectre of putting a nuclear-armed Pakistan at odds with Israel, widely believed to have its own significant nuclear arsenal.

To some, the greatest risk is to the moribund world economy.

Analysts believe an Israeli attack would cause oil prices to spike, since global markets so far have largely dismissed the Israeli threats and not "priced in" the threat.

According to one poll conducted by the Rapidan Group, an energy consulting firm in Bethesda, Maryland, prices would surge by $23 a barrel. The price of oil settled Friday at $97.84 a barrel.

"Traders don't believe there's anything but bluster going on," said Robert McNally, president of Rapidan and an energy adviser to former President George W Bush. "A potential Israeli attack on Iran is different than almost every scenario that we've seen before."

McNally said Iran could rattle oil markets by targeting oil fields in southern Iraq or export facilities in Saudi Arabia or Qatar - and withhold sales of its own oil and natural gas from countries not boycotting.

Shut Hormuz

Iran also could attempt to carry out its biggest threat: to shut the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway through which a fifth of the world's oil passes. That could send oil prices soaring beyond $200 a barrel. But analysts note Iran's navy is over matched.

If a surge in oil prices proved lasting, financial markets would probably plummet on concerns that global economic growth would slow and on the fear that any conflict could worsen and spread.

For the US economy, higher petrol prices would probably result in lower consumer spending, which accounts for 70% of US economic activity. That could have devastating consequences for an incumbent president seeking re-election.

Nick Witney, former head of the EU's European Defence Agency, said "the political and economic consequences of an Israeli attack would be catastrophic for Europe" since the likely spike in the price of oil alone "could push the entire EU, including Germany, into recession".

He said this could lead to "messy defaults" by countries like Greece and Italy, and possibly cause a collapse of the already-wobbly euro.

Witney, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, added that "the Iranians would probably retaliate against European interests in the region, and conceivably more directly with terrorism aimed at Western countries and societies."

Oil disruptions or higher oil prices will also dent growth in Asia. China, India, South Korea and Japan all buy substantial amounts of Iranian crude and could face temporary shortages.

China's fast-growing economy, which gets 11% of its oil from Iran, has urged all sides to avoid disrupting supplies. Any impact on China's economy, the world's second-largest, could send out global shock waves if it dented Chinese demand for industrial components and raw materials.

Why is the issue coming to a head with such unfortunate timing, with the US election looming and the global economy hanging by a razor's edge?


The urgency is fuelled by a belief in Israel that Iran is moving centrifuges and key installations deep underground by the summer - combined with doubts about whether either Israel or the United States have the bunker-busting capacity to act effectively thereafter.

At last week's security conference, Vice Premier Moshe Yaalon, a former military chief, said all of Iran's nuclear installations are still vulnerable to military strikes.

In a startling threat, he appeared to contradict assessments of foreign experts and Israeli defence officials that it would be difficult to strike sensitive Iranian nuclear targets hidden deep underground.

American officials acknowledge the current version of its bunker-buster bombs - considered the largest non-nuclear bomb in the US arsenal may not be able to penetrate Iran's heavily fortified underground facilities. The Pentagon is asking Congress to reprogramme about $82m order to make the 30 000-pound bunker-buster bomb more capable.

But US officials also say there are a number of ways to cripple or disable the sites, such as targeting entrance and exit routes to an underground facility, rendering it inaccessible.

Israeli officials at the conference asserted that Iran has already produced enough enriched uranium to eventually build four rudimentary nuclear bombs and - in what would be a new twist - was even developing missiles capable of reaching the US.

Amos Yadlin, the former head of Israel's military intelligence, said the world needed less discussion on the issue. "There is the danger that an escalation could get out of control," he said.

"Israel should go back to what it does best: Shut up."

  • Eric Schollar - 2012-02-05 23:33

    Fears? Sanctions have failed (no surprise there) and Iran continues to threaten Israel with destruction and genoicide. Israel has no options left. To wait until Iran puts the a-bombs beyond reach would be suicidal.

      David - 2012-02-06 10:16

      Of course they do...start treating the Palestinians like equal citizens and create a peaceful state instead of an apartheid set up with arabs being treated wore than animals by Israel... then over time the middle east will heal... now with being bullied by Israel naturally the Arab states don't accept the take the time to learn whats really happening in the Middle East. Religion is the worlds downfall...i cant imagine if their is a God that this is what he intended with the words have faith.

  • jack.oosthuysen - 2012-02-05 23:35

    Just Do it. It is in any case a catch 22 situation. Get it over with as the world has become a very messed up place.

  • Gary - 2012-02-06 00:09

    So here we go again. Israel is threatening to bring the whole world to the brink of destruction because of their war mongering. Iran does not have a nuclear weapon, is using its nuclear power for its and is a signatory to the nuclear treaty. Israel has more than 250 nukes, so who is more dangerous to world peace and stability?

      Jaba - 2012-02-06 07:06

      Israel might have nukes but they threatened no one in the last few decades while having them... Iran trying to build a bomb is already threatening to wipe out a member state. Israel is not the problem - its neighbours that refuse to atop calling for her annihilation that are the problem, and that includes you gary.

      Garth - 2012-02-07 08:45

      @gary - your ignorance is palpably obvious. Israel - a war monger? No, they are merely trying to survive on land that belongs to them, as disciples of the oldest, practised religion on this planet. The OAU have a blood oath dedicated to the destruction of Israel and all in it. When Israel relax their vigilance they cease to exist!

  • abdullah.sujee - 2012-02-06 00:22

    The pot calling the kettle black...

  • Ric - 2012-02-06 01:30

    There are people out there who seem to see conspiracies behind every tree with very little evidence other than that provided by fellow conspiracy theorists to go on. The best thing about such theories is that the more mainstream evidence that is stacked up against them, the more the theorists feel vindicated that there has been some sort of massive cover up. Now, I don't know if I'm alone, but I feel my life (whilst not brilliant) is pretty good and as a result, I can't see any reason to change the status quo even if there is some massive social engineering project on the go. I would like one of these conspiracy theorists out there to tell me how my life would improve if some grand conspiracy ever was actually successfully exposed. Would I not have to work as hard? Would I not have to pay taxes? Would the new 'conspiracy-fee' government magic up some alternative to fiat currency to provide for all my needs for free? Or would we not need a government at all? Would crime disappear? Would the 99% of the world that has nothing suddenly become wealthy without the 1% that have (including those who have the luxury of believing in conspiracy theories) having to give up 99% of what they have to redress the balance? But I suppose whatever I say, the conspiracy theorist will fall back on that spurious argument that I have been 'brainwashed by the system'. Maybe I have, but right now, I'm quite happy with that!

      David - 2012-02-06 10:20

      Nice comments on conspiracy theories... :-)

  • seymore.butt - 2012-02-06 02:02

    The only country to ever have used nuclear weapons is United States. Let the world/UN first ask the US to give up its nuclear arsenal before asking any other country. Non-proliferation treaty can only succeed if applied equally to all nations.

      Dan - 2012-02-06 03:23

      Good point Seymore , the idiots is not the only ones to use it , but also the only ones to LOOSE a few (they lost a few in Italy ) Google nuclear accidents and you will see , they lost a few in iceland and Greenland too .

      Marcell - 2012-02-06 03:29

      Right or wrong. They used it only once to make Japan toe the line. I'm sure if it is used on Iran, dear leader will depart to a hot place where he will toe the line.

  • Dan - 2012-02-06 03:17

    Like I sed before. The Usa should give all their nukes to Isreal and the USSR should give all their nukes to Iran.( a good way to get rid of your nukes) Let the Christians have their Armagedon Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also want chaos and the end of the world. Leaving the middle east radioactive and uninhabitable for a million years would rid us of the majority of hotheads,terrorists and suicide bombers . We can then experience what they call nuclear winter , which will wipe out the human species and leave the planet radioactive for millions of years . Hopefully the cocroaches that will then evolve into the next intelligent and technological specie will not make the same mistake as the homo sapiens . Homo Sapiens throught their stupidity will forfeit their right to this planet

  • Jaba - 2012-02-06 07:19

    Israel may attack Iran nukes? It won't happen when there is no element of surprise. It is just pressuring Iran to hopefully do away with its program or agree to international terms. Anything that leaks out to a news source is just a divergence for something else.

  • mnejatian - 2012-02-06 09:22

    Iranians are not terrorists, you bloody fools!

      Dan - 2012-02-06 22:35

      Yep mneejatian ...... and priests dont like choir boys ..... ask the Pope heard that one before

  • Bob - 2012-02-06 09:30

    Iran: A beautiful country teeming with rich culture and tradition where, despite the lack of funds and international cooperation, scientific research and progress has boomed. A great country, ruined by the retarded religious people running it.

      Dan - 2012-02-06 22:37

      Bob, show me one, just one religious leader thats not a retard just one

  • Travis - 2012-02-06 09:49

    Love & peace...

  • ludlowdj - 2012-02-06 09:58

    Unfortunately the truth is any action by Israel will immediately be responded to by the Arab states, Hitler may not have succeeded with his "final solution" to the Jew problem, but the Arab world will most certainly do so. One thing is certain the Jews will start this war, but they won't finish it.

  • Greg - 2012-02-06 10:22

    The 'supreme leader' of Iran has spoken. The non-muslim, liberal and moderate muslim world live in the mistaken belief that radical Islam can be reasoned with. Iran is a radical Islamic state and has already set their course. No dimmi and non-believers are going to change the 'supreme leader's' decision which, by the way, is the final decision. President Armardinajhad is merely a political figurehead with no real power. It is great folly to believe that radical Islam can be converted, their mindset is firmly fixed on attaining glory by killing as many non-muslims as possible, including liberal and moderate muslims.

  • Oso - 2012-02-06 11:00

    Dear Editor: Your bias is revealed in the title of this article, which presupposes that Iran has nukes. This is an incorrect notion, unless Iran is lying about it, which eliminates the whole purpose of the Mutually Assured Destruction tactic.

      Dan - 2012-02-06 22:31

      Dear Oso . The Iranians obtained on the blackmarket , and are spinning 1100 nuclear enrichment centrifuges at astronomical cost just for fun. And Santa Claus will this christmas give each priest a little choir boy to hold and to cherish ........

  • Satish - 2012-02-07 16:46

    The number of Indian children being trafficked to Israel, brutally tortured, killed and consumed as food every year far exceeds the number of deaths in Syria's civil unrest but there is no international outcry about it. RAW had proposed a processing facility to prepare and ship the meat of Indians to Israel but it was rejected because Jewish custom requires the victims to be tortured and killed over several hours before they can be eaten. Should RAW's trafficking of Indian children to Israel to be used as food be a cause for regime change? You bet! This trafficking has the sanction of the Italian woman but is she a member of Indian society? The wealth that Imelda Marcos and her husband in the Philippines amassed was not even peanuts compared to the wealth amassed by the Italian woman just as Imelda Marcos' world famous shoe collection was nothing compared to the Italian woman's fetish for shoes made from the skins of Indian children. The Italian woman gifted some of these shoes made from the skins of Indian children to the French president's wife who is Italian. Also handbags. The United States Secretary of State had requested one such handbag and it was sent to her by special jet which made the trip just for this purpose. Soon it will be a standard gift item to give to people in American and European governments. See RAWsTraffickingOfIndianChildrenDOTblogspotDOTcom

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