Global Politics

Hawkish Talk In Israel About Iran

The United Nations nuclear watchdog agency is due to release a new report on Iran's nuclear program this week.

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And it's expected to be highly critical of Iranian intentions.

Iran said the leaked contents of the International Atomic Energy Agency report are "fabrications."

But the episode has already fuelled speculation that the Israelis might consider bombing Iran's nuclear facilities.

Israelis across the political spectrum have long considered Iran's nuclear program to be a grave threat. And Israeli leaders have long alluded to the necessity of using military action. But news reports suggest this time, an attack could be imminent. Today, Israel's finance minister Yuval Steinitz said he hoped the forthcoming UN report would finally bring the gravity of the Iranian nuclear threat into focus for the international community.

"We know it already for 15 years, it is very clear and now it is going to be crystal clear to the entire world. And therefore Iran is producing the most dangerous threat, not just to Israel and the Middle East, but to Europe, the United States and the rest of the world, and it's up to the world to do its utmost."

"Israel is trying to convince the world. But the question is, is there anything behind these threats? And I would say, yes," said Ronen Bergman, a military affairs analyst at the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

Bergman said Israel is sending the message that if the world does not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, then Israel will take matters into its own hands.

"I would say that Israel, as a last resort, if it is convinced that the world is not going to take serious actions against Iran, the Israeli prime minister — not just Netanyahu — I think any Israeli prime minister would launch the bombers to hit the Iranian nuclear sites," Bergman said.

The new US defense secretary just paid a visit to Israel. And Leon Panetta said something publicly that was perceived here as a word of caution to prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Panetta said that when it comes to decisions about Iran, things need to be coordinated between the Israeli and US governments. Nicholas Burns is former undersecretary of state who worked on Iran policy under president George W. Bush.

"If Israel were to strike unilaterally, it would almost by definition drag the US into a war. Iran's going to respond," Burns said. "I think Iran would like nothing than to get into a war with Israel. We'd have to support Israel. So it's very important that the US have an agreement with Israel: "we've got this one. We've got your back. We'll protect you. But don't drag us into a war that's not of our choosing."

The Israeli public and political leadership is deeply divided on this issue.

A former head of Israel's Mossad spy agency, Meir Dagan, caused a huge stir when he said early this year, that bombing Iran was, quote, the "stupidest thing" he's ever heard. Jeffrey Goldberg is national correspondent with The Atlantic.

He said several former Israeli intelligence and military officials fear that prime minister Netanyahu, along with his defense minister Ehud Barak, are ready to strike Iran. And that there's no one left in the upper echelons of power to advise them against doing so.

"Ultimately, if the prime minister and the defense minister tell the Israeli air force to attack Iran, it will attack Iran," Goldberg said. "It has plans. It has practiced for this. It believes, like any good air force, that it can do anything. And so, this will happen if the prime minister decides that it will happen."

Goldberg agrees that some of what's going on here is public posturing on the part of the Israeli government. This is aimed at getting the US and allies to hit Iran with tougher sanctions. But he adds that the Israeli prime minister is also completely sincere when he talks about the need to stop Iran going from nuclear.

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