- TEHRAN (AFP) -- Iran will
strike the Israeli reactor at Dimona if Israel launches an attack on Iran's
own burgeoning nuclear facilities, a commander of the elite Revolutionary
Guards was quoted as saying Wednesday.
- "If Israel fires one missile at Bushehr atomic power
plant, it should permanently forget about Dimona nuclear centre, where
it produces and keeps its nuclear weapons, and Israel would be responsible
for the terrifying consequence of this move," General Mohammad Baqer
Zolqadr was quoted as saying in the press.
- Iran's controversial bid to generate nuclear power at
its Bushehr plant is seen by arch-enemies Israel and the United States
as a cover for nuclear weapons development, allegations that Iran denies.
- As a result, Israel and Iran have been exchanging threats
in recent weeks, raising the possibility of an attack on Iran's facilities
similar to that carried out by Israeli bombers on the Iraqi nuclear plant
at Osirak in 1981.
- Israel refuses to confirm it has a nuclear arsenal but
is estimated to possess some 200 warheads.
- Iran last week tested an upgraded version of its conventional
medium-range Shahab-3 missile, and Revolutionary Guards chief Yadollah
Javani said at the weekend that all Israeli military and nuclear sites
are now within range.
- Would Israel Strike First At Iran?
- By Joshua Mitnick in Tel Aviv
The Christian Science Monitor
- Moments before dispatching Israeli pilots to bomb Iraq's
Osirak nuclear reactor in June, 1981, army Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan
is said to have depicted the importance of the mission in stark terms:
"The alternative is our destruction."
- In ordering the lightning knockout, Israel served notice
to its Middle Eastern foes that the Jewish state would act - even preemptively
- to deprive them of a nuclear option.
- Two decades later, the Osirak precedent endures. As the
Bush administration steps up its rhetoric against Iran's nuclear program,
the possibility of Israel following through on veiled threats to hit Iranian
sites remains a wildcard.
- But several Israeli experts say that the Osirak experience
bears little relevance in the case of Iran and that the chances of a repeat
strike are very low.
- Unlike in the early 1980s when Israel found itself isolated
in perceiving a threat from Iraq's nuclear program, the prospect of US-led
multilateral pressure against Iran casts a unilateral strike in a more-problematic
- With National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice warning
last week that the US won't tolerate a nuclear Iran, Israel is much more
likely to act in tandem with its most powerful ally rather than electing
to go it alone, observers say.
- "The circumstances are quite different," says
Ephraim Kam, head of the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar
Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. "If Israel is going to take
any move beyond the diplomatic move, there should be better understanding
in the international arena that there is no way to stop the Iranians."
- Tehran admits it has sought so-called dual-use nuclear
technology in order to generate electricity, but denies it aims to build
- Repeat Performance?
- Even the very ability of Israel's military to repeat
the decisive strike achieved at Osirak appears doubtful. While the Iraqi
nuclear effort was concentrated at the Osirak plant, nuclear experts say
the Iranians have dispersed their program at multiple sites, some of which
are hidden underground.
- That makes a repeat performance of the clean and decisive
blow against Iraq almost impossible, analysts say. Not only is it unclear
how Israeli forces would eliminate underground centrifuge installations,
but the task of locating all of Iran's nuclear targets requires a high
degree of intelligence and risk.
- "I don't think there's an option for a preemptive
act because we're talking about a different sort of a nuclear program,"
says Shmuel Bar, a fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the
Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. "A hit-and-run preemptive
attack can't guarantee much success."
- Even so, first-strike offensives have been an essential
element of Israel's defensive doctrine for decades - the most famous instance
being the Israeli Air Force's destruction of Egyptian air bases to open
the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. That approach still influences the Israeli defense
- With Israeli intelligence agencies estimating that Iran
will acquire nuclear weaponry by 2007, defense officials on occasion drop
hints of a first strike. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz (who was born in
Iran) said in a December radio interview that Israel would try to minimize
civilian casualties in such an attack.
- Last week, Israeli army Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon said
in an interview with the daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot that Israel "can't
rely on others" in facing the threat from Iran.
- Both countries have engaged in a cat-and-mouse game of
missile tests in recent weeks. Iran has said it would strike at Israel
with its ballistic missiles if Israel attacks its nuclear facilities.
- "For Israel it's quite clear, that we're not going
to wait for a threat to be realized," says Ephraim Inbar, head of
the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. "For
self-defense we have to act in a preemptive mode."
- Nevertheless, a lone Israeli strike reminiscent of 1981
seems less likely at a time when US forces are sitting in neighboring Iraq,
officials and analysts say. By acting independently, Israel would be forgoing
the intelligence and manpower of the better-positioned American military.
- US Complicity?
- The Osirak strike generated a chorus of international
condemnation that included US Secretary of State Alexander Haig and UN
Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick. But beyond a temporary halt in F-16 fighter
jet shipments from the US, there was no lasting fallout.
- Unlike 1981, the blame for such an attack today would
not be limited to Israel. The US would be perceived in the Muslim world
as being complicit - probably boosting the motivation of extremists to
carry out terrorist attacks on Western targets.
- "Certainly it would be seen as a continuation of
what the Americans did in Iraq," says Bruce Maddy Weizman, a fellow
at the Dayan Center for Middle East and African Studies at Tel Aviv University.
"Israel and US are widely perceived to be acting in concert."
- For their part, Israeli officials argue that Iran's ambition
is to use nuclear prominence to threaten Saudi Arabia, Europe, and US influence
in the Gulf.
- That position makes it harder to justify another Osirak,
because such an action would contradict Israeli claims that Iran's nuclear
program is a global threat rather than a regional one.
- "We don't want to create the impression that it's
on our shoulders," says Israeli legislator Yuval Steinmetz, chair
of the parliament's foreign affairs and defense committee. "This time
it's not up to Israel to save the world."