Will Israel Strike Iran? Speculation Fed by Looming Report on Iran’s Nuclear Activities

By Patrick Goodenough | November 2, 2011 | 4:39am EDT

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addresses the opening session of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, Monday, Oct. 31, 2011. Israel's ceremonial president, Shimon Peres, looks on. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

(CNSNews.com) - The possibility of an Israeli military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities has become the subject of growing media speculation in Israel, fed in part by comments from some political leaders.

Similar conjecture has occurred in the past, but this time the reports are linked to the looming release of a new International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran's nuclear activities, which is expected to go further than previous such reports in hardening suspicions that the programs have a military dimension, despite Iran's consistent assertions to the contrary.

The report is due to be released by IAEA director-general Yukio Amano on Nov. 8, ahead of a meeting the following week of the 35-member IAEA governing board.

Previous IAEA reports on Iran have cited numerous breaches of commitments. They said Tehran has failed to clarify whether it is covertly developing the know-how to produce nuclear warheads for a fast-advancing ballistic missile arsenal.

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Amano reiterated that Iran "is not providing the necessary cooperation" to enable the IAEA to determine that the nuclear material in Iran is being used solely for peaceful activities.

A key concern of nonproliferation experts is that the Iranians could achieve "breakout capability," the point at which they could, if they decided to do so, build an atomic bomb within three months.

The Israeli media speculation began late last week with reports in the mass-circulation tabloid Yediot Ahronot saying that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are pushing for an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. The Israeli cabinet was said to be divided on the matter.

In a speech to lawmakers at the opening of the Knesset's winter session on Monday, Netanyahu said that a nuclear Iran would pose a grave threat to Israel, the Middle East and "the entire world."

In comments that may have been directed at Iran or Hamas-controlled Gaza - the source of an escalation in rocket attacks in recent days that killed an Israeli civilian and have disrupted life in southern Israel - Netanyahu spoke bluntly about pre-emption.

"Our policy is guided by two main principles: the first is ‘if someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first,' and the second is ‘if anyone harms us, his blood is on his own hands,'" he said.

"For 2,000 years our people could not realize these two basic principles of self defense. The Jewish people paid the ultimate price in the history of the world due to this inability. This changed when the State of Israel was established, and the Israel Defense Forces was founded."

In a radio interview on Monday, Barak rejected the notion that he and Netanyahu had already made a decision to carry out an airstrike. But he also reiterated the government's view of the threat posed by Iran and the stance that "no options should be taken off the table."

"We know the Iranian leadership's goals, its determination and how it evades the world," Ha'aretz quoted him as telling Army Radio. "We know what happened in Pakistan, we know what happened in North Korea and we see the immunity they have because of [their nuclear weapons capability]."

Ha'aretz cited an unidentified senior Israeli official as saying Netanyahu and Barak were trying to win cabinet ministers over to their way of thinking on the need for military action.

The Hebrew-language daily reported separately that Israeli ambassadors in Western capitals have been instructed to tell host governments that the window of opportunity for imposing effective sanctions on Iran was closing.

The Israelis are known on at least two past occasions to have carried out pre-emptive strikes against potential nuclear threats.

In 1981, eight Israeli Air Force jets fitted with extra fuel tanks flew some 600 miles across Jordanian and Saudi airspace before bombing Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor at Osirak, south of Baghdad.

In 2007, Israeli jets bombed a remote site in Syria, where North Korea is suspected to have been helping President Bashar Assad's regime to develop a clandestine nuclear weapons capability, in the form of a reactor modeled on North Korea's facility on Yongbyon.

Although not unprecedented, an Israeli strike against Iranian facilities would be far more complex, given the greater distances to fly and the scattered locations of potential targets.

They could include the Russian-built reactor near Bushehr in the south; a uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz and a nuclear research plant and uranium conversion facility at Isfahan, both in central Iran; a formerly undisclosed underground enrichment facility at Qom, about 100 miles south of Tehran; a heavy water reactor in Arak, about 80 miles south-west of Qom; as well as other covert sites.

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