Dec 8, 2007

Has US Abandoned Israel on Iran?

By Julie Stahl

Jerusalem ( - A U.S. intelligence report made public this week has some Israelis wondering if Israel may be forced to go it alone in a possible military strike against Iran.

A solo Israeli mission would be "doable" but "complicated and dangerous," reserve Maj.-General Jacob Amidror told Cybercast News Service.

Amidror said the chances of an American military strike on Iran are almost impossible right now, after the latest assessment from the U.S. intelligence community expressed high confidence that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

At the same time, the U.S. and the world understand that Israel is not the only one that would suffer at the hands of a nuclear Iran. Some efforts are being made to prevent that from happening, said Amidror, who formerly headed the Israeli army's research and assessment division.

Amidror said that while Iran may temporarily have stopped work on its nuclear weapons program, it likely did so only to better hide it from the world. It is illogical to think that Iran is continuing to enrich uranium - as the U.S. report said -- without the intention of building a bomb, he added.

Israel single-handedly attacked Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981, shortly before it became operational, incurring the condemnation of the world. But a decade later, Israel was praised for its foresight.

Time magazine quoted an Israeli cabinet member as saying that the release of the latest NIE had ended "the military option against Iran for now" because Israel would not attack alone. "Iran's facilities are too many and spread too far apart," the magazine said.

But Israel's Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said on Friday that while Israel would try to exhaust diplomatic measures for stopping Iran, "no option needs to be off the table," the Jerusalem Post reported.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni urged her NATO counterparts on Friday to make a decision soon regarding Iran, saying Tehran was close to crossing a technological threshold that would give it the ability "to secretly produce nuclear weapons without supervision."

"The time to reach a decision [regarding Iran] is near," Livni was quoted as saying by the Israeli website YNET. "The American intelligence report on Iran should not change the tough position taken against its nuclear program."

President Bush pledged that Washington would continue to push for tough sanctions against Iran. He said the NIE proves that a tough approach is working.

Bush has telephoned China, which has long resisted sanctions against Iran, and told Chinese President Hu Jintao that he was willing to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis through dialogue, media reports said on Friday. Bush also said he hoped the United Nations would continue to take "necessary action" to halt Iran's uranium enrichment.

In its official response, the Israeli government said the U.S. will continue its attempt to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, although Defense Minister Ehud Barak openly disagreed with the U.S. intelligence assessment. He said Iran has restarted its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Some Israeli analysts and commentators believe Israel has been virtually abandoned by the U.S.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar, an Arabic expert at the BESA Center for Strategic Studies, told Cybercast News Service he believes the NIE was commissioned by the Bush administration in order "to cover up its unwillingness to deal with Iran."

Jerusalem Post Columnist Carolyn Glick said the NIE was tantamount to a U.S. "double-cross" of Israel.

"Many commentators applauded the Annapolis conference, claiming that its real aim was to cement a US-led coalition, including Israel and the Arabs, against Iran. These voices argued that it made sense for Israel to agree to negotiate on bad terms in exchange for such a coalition.

Glick argued that by holding out the promise of a hypothetical coalition against Iran, the U.S. "extracted massive Israeli concessions to the Palestinians and then turned around and abandoned Israel on Iran as well."

"For their part, the Iranians are celebrating the NIE's publication as a major victory," Glick wrote in Friday's Jerusalem Post. "And they are right to do so. With the stroke of a pen the U.S. this week has let it be known that it doesn't have a problem with Iran acquiring the means to carry out the second genocide of the Jewish people in 70 years," she said.

An editorial in the daily Ha'aretz on Thursday suggested that Israel must take a pro-active approach.

"While Iran continues threatening to annihilate Israel, what American intelligence thinks about Iran's nuclear capability is irrelevant. It is not fantasy or paranoia when we hear regular, concrete threats from Tehran. The threats may be just a familiar background hum in the world's ears, but it is Israel's duty to persuade the world to listen," the editors wrote.

"The American intelligence...may have a restraining effect in internal American politics. But in Israeli politics, it should cause the opposite reaction because any weakness in the American approach...endangers Israel," it said.