By Ryan Jones
Israel for the past week has been on edge as local media brings to light intensive government discussions over whether or not to launch a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.
It started last Friday when Israel's largest newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, ran a frontpage editorial asserting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak had already determined that a strike on Iran was necessary, and were applying pressure to get the rest of the cabinet to give a green light.
Days later, the Knesset was embroiled in constant debate over the necessity of attacking Iran before it could build a nuclear bomb. Western intelligence officials now believe Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, but may still be two years away from fielding operational warheads.
A number of government officials blasted the fact that the debate over whether or not to strike Iran had burst forth into the public domain, arguing that if such a strike is deemed necessary, Israel may have lost all hope of surprising the enemy.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in an interview with Israel Radio did not refute that an Iran strike is being discussed, but did say that much of what is being reported in the media is inaccurate.
Fueling local fears that an attack on Iran is imminent were three major military exercises conducted over the past week:
- On Wednesday, Israeli Air Force pilots returned from a large-scale joint exercise with the Italian Air Force. The drills included long-range refueling. The only current threat far enough from Israel to require its fighters to refuel mid-air is Iran.
- Earlier this week, Israel successfully test fired a new "ballistic" version of Jericho III long-range missile. The new Jericho III enables Israel to deliver heavy payloads to targets anywhere in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia and much of North America. Foreign media also noted that the missiles could be fitted with the hundreds of nuclear warheads Israel is believed to possess.
- On Thursday, Israel's Home Front Command conducted a major drill in the Tel Aviv region simulating a long-range enemy missile strike on Israel's population centers. Iran has warned that if Israel strikes its nuclear facilities, missiles will rain down on Israeli cities. Syria would presumably join Iran in such an attack.
The report came just days after the head of the British military, Gen. David Richards visited Israel. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is currently in London holding talks with Britain's top defense officials.
London's Daily Mail followed up with a report citing officials who said US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron had determined that after years of diplomatic efforts, there is now no alternative to military intervention as a means of halting Iran's nuclear program.
Obama and Cameron "are preparing for war after reports that Iran now has enough enriched uranium for four nuclear weapons," reported the paper.
While a strike on Iran is certainly not a given, all the talk and obvious preparations have put most Israelis on edge.
Many in Israel believe there will ultimately be no choice but to strike Iran's nuclear facilities - just as Israel did to Iraq in 1981 and to Syria in 2007 - but know that such a move will carry a heavy price tag.
Even if Israel does not play a direct role in a military operation against Iran, it would bear the brunt of the retaliation. And if Iran responded by firing unconventional weapons at Tel Aviv, Israel would be compelled to launch a counter-strike.
Iran now top threat to U.S. says military official - Reuters
Peres: Israel Closer than Ever to Military Action in Iran - Arutz Sheva
General in Israel for secret Iran talks - Jewish Chronicle
Will next report on Iran nuclear program 'prove' quest for nuclear weapon? - Christian Science Monitor
Iran 'is ready for war': Tehran vows to retaliate if Israel and the West attack nuclear plants - Daily Mail