Saturday, November 18, 2006

Olmert's drums of war

By Aluf Benn

"In his address to the General Assembly of the Jewish Communities of North America in Los Angeles earlier this week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made it clear that Israel and Iran were headed down a road of confrontation. It is hard to interpret his message any differently: "We have reached the pivotal moment of truth regarding Iran... Our integrity will remain intact only if we prevent Iran's devious goals, not if we try our best but fail."

Members of the UN Security Council are still talking about imposing ridiculous sanctions that will have little effect on Iran, and an international military operation against the Iranian nuclear installations is highly unrealistic. The Democrat's victory in midterm elections in the United States also lessened the likelihood that Bush will bomb Iran. Israel, it seems, is facing Ahmadinejad alone.

"A weak prime minister who is dropping in the opinion polls suddenly found himself faced with Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Effi Eitam, who are politicizing the issue, and with a public that does not have faith in the prime minister due to his lack of security experience," senior officials in Jerusalem explained.

"Olmert is under attack for not being able to deal with the Qassam rockets, so he is under pressure and is moving away from the low-profile approach," they added.

The public will justifiably want to know what has been done to prevent the threat to its existence posed by Iran, and to stop the possible mass exodus of Jews from Israel, as described by Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh. Domestic pressure calling for military action will intensify.

However, experts on strategy have voiced doubts regarding Israel's ability to carry out an effective aerial attack on Iran's nuclear installations, similar to the raid that destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981. The experts say there are three prerequisites for such an operation:

* Accurate and updated intelligence on the locations of the targets, some of which are hidden underground and are well defended

* The right kinds of munitions capable of destroying their targets with a high chance of success

* Diplomatic coordination with the Americans. The U.S. forces in the region could become targets of Iranian retaliation, just like Israel, and therefore there is no way that an independent Israeli action can take place without authorization from Bush. Did Olmert get such a go-ahead and is this why he was pleased with his visit to the White House?

International pressure and sanctions were supposed to delay the Iranians, at least until the regime there fell, or some miracle happened. However, it is not working out.

The challenge Olmert has set for himself is not a simple one. But the more his warnings intensify, the more difficult he will find it to back down and convince the public that we can live with an Iranian bomb. Therefore, we can assume that the confrontation is moving closer."

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