Israel Mulls U.S. Stance on Unilateral Iran Strike

srael’s defense community is divided on the importance of securing U.S. backing for an independent Israeli military strike on Iran, the Wall Street Journalreported today (see GSN, April 20).

The United States has given some signals that it could allow an Iranian nuclear arsenal, but Israel has made clear it would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran, high-level Israeli government sources said. Jerusalem and Washington as well as several European governments suspect Iran’s nuclear program is geared toward producing weapons, but Tehran has insisted its nuclear program has no military component.

Israeli officials have suggested Iran could become capable within a year of building a nuclear weapon that could hit their nation; independent analysts have questioned that assertion.

Some members of the Israeli government believe their country’s interests would be harmed more by a potential rift with the United States resulting from unilateral military action than by an Iranian nuclear weapons program. The Obama administration has discouraged an independent Israeli attack on Iran, but concerns have lingered in Washington about the possibility of Jerusalem taking unilateral action, one high-level U.S. official said.

To reach Iran, Israeli military aircraft would have to fly over either U.S.-occupied Iraq or a Washington ally such as Saudi Arabia or Turkey, potentially complicating Jerusalem’s relations with neighboring states.

Israeli defenses could shoot down many of the missiles Iran could launch in response to a strike, and the targeting of Iran’s missiles is fairly unreliable, Israeli defense analysts said.

Still, Iran could heighten U.S.-Israeli tensions resulting from a unilateral strike by leveraging militant groups to retaliate against U.S. forces in the region, or Tehran could prevent oil shipments from leaving the Persian Gulf.

“What will Americans say if Israel drags the U.S. into a war it didn’t want, or when they are suddenly paying $10 a gallon for gasoline and Israel is the reason for it,” said retired Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom, former strategic planning chief for the Israeli military’s general staff.

Israel would not risk its ties with the United States by attacking Iran without a green light from Washington, former Israeli national security adviser Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland suggested.

Former Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, though, said U.S. approval was unnecessary for such an attack. “We don’t have permission and we don’t need permission from the U.S.,” he said (Charles Levinson, Wall Street Journal, April 21).

Meanwhile, Iranian officials were urging U.N. Security Council member nations not to back a U.S.-led drive to adopt a fourth round of Security Council sanctions against Tehran, the Washington Post reported today. Diplomats from the Middle Eastern state were issuing the pleas at meetings on a U.N. uranium enrichment proposal formulated last October, U.S. officials said.

The United States has aimed to secure support for a new sanctions resolution from the Security Council’s other 14 member nations, and any appearance of dissension within the body would be seen as a success for Tehran, according to the Post. Security Council members considered likely to vote against new sanctions or abstain in a vote included Brazil, Lebanon, Nigeria, Turkey and Uganda.

“The groups we are sending out will be focusing on the correct implementation of the [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty], the disarmament trend and fuel-swap issues. … Naturally, our explanations during the trips will have a positive effect against the efforts by the United States in trying to impose new sanctions,” said Kazem Jalali, one member of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee.

In addition, Tehran intends to seek backing at next month’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference (Thomas Erdbrink, Washington Post, April 21).

Representatives from the Security Council’s five permanent member nations and Germany held another meeting yesterday to discuss the text of a potential sanctions resolution, Agence France-Presse reported.

Russia has offered “some rather constructive proposals” at the negotiations, which have taken place over recent weeks, but China had not provided a response to a U.S. draft resolution before yesterday’s meeting, according to one diplomat involved in the process. Beijing and Moscow have each resisted some past Western calls for tough punitive measures against Tehran (Agence France-Presse I/Spacewar.com, April 20).

Russia stressed it had no evidence that Iran’s nuclear program includes a military component, Interfax reported yesterday.

Still, “the international community’s concerns about the development of the Iranian nuclear program are growing, and these concerns are reflected in a number of resolutions by the U.N. Security Council and the [International Atomic Energy Agency] Board of Governors,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russia Today (Interfax, April 20).

Efforts to resolve the nuclear standoff were moving forward, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in comments published today.

“What is most important is the fact that the Iranian side is very receptive. There are also steps that I will take from now on. I’m very hopeful,” the newspaper Today’s Zaman quoted Davutoglu as saying (Agence France-Presse II/Spacewar.com, April 21).

In Washington, the House of Representatives plans this week to vote on conferees to resolve differences with the Senate over Iran sanctions legislation, AFP reported. President Barack Obama could receive the finished bill “in a matter of weeks,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said yesterday. The legislation would target non-U.S. firms doing business with Iran’s energy sector (Agence France-Presse III/Google News, April 20).

Iran’s supreme religious leader today criticized an updated U.S. nuclear weapons policy that does not rule out nuclear strikes on non-nuclear weapon states that are outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or in noncompliance with the pact, Reuters reported.

“The international community should not let Obama get away with nuclear threats,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said.

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard planned tomorrow to launch three days of drills (Parisa Hafezi, Reuters, April 21). The exercises would involve missile tests, one senior Revolutionary Guard official said, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 21).

Elsewhere, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi said Tehran has not yet wrapped up site selection for new uranium enrichment facilities, AFP reported.

“The designs for the first new nuclear (enrichment) site will be done this year,” state media quoted Salehi as saying. “The location of this nuclear site has not yet been finalized. After the president’s approval, a decision will be made in this regard” (Agence France-Presse IV/Google News, April 21).