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Strike on Iran Not Easy, Israeli Military Chief Says

Monday, 05 December 2005 12:00 AM

JERUSALEM -- It would be possible, but not easy, to launch a military strike on Iran to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons, Israel's army chief said, without offering any specifics.

The comments came as hopes faded in Israel for a diplomatic solution to Iran's pursuit of uranium enrichment - a key component in the production of an atomic bomb.

And in another provocative move, Iran on Monday announced plans to build a second nuclear reactor in southwestern Iran, Iranian television reported.

Oil-rich Iran insists that its nuclear energy program is purely civilian in nature and that it has a right to enrich uranium. But the U.S. and Israel, along with a growing number of other Western states, believe that Iran is using the civilian project to hide its development of nuclear arms.

American attempts to have Iran's nuclear development referred to the United Nations Security Council were thwarted again last month at an International Atomic Energy Agency meeting, where the IAEA Board of Governors insisted on pursuing diplomatic measures to stop Iran.

But Israeli Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz said he does not believe that diplomatic pressure will force Iran to stop its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

"The fact that the Iranians are succeeding time after time to get away from the international pressure either under the Board of Governors or the U.N. Security Council ...is encouraging them to continue with their nuclear project," Halutz told foreign journalists in Tel Aviv on Sunday.

The IAEA, the United Nation's nuclear watchdog, decided last month to give diplomacy another chance before referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council.

"I believe that the political means that are used by the European countries and the Americans to convince the Iranians to stop their project will not end in the stopping the Iranian project," said Halutz.

IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei warned that if Iran reopens its Natanz underground enrichment plant in central Iraq, it would raise questions about Iran's intentions regarding its nuclear energy program.

If Iran starts the enrichment process, it would be "a major issue and a serious concern for the international community," ElBaradei was quoted as saying in an interview with the British paper The Independent published on Monday.

ElBaradei said that it could take the Iranians only "a few months" to develop a nuclear bomb once Natanz is up and running to full capacity - which could take two years, the Internet version of the paper said.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is now vying for leadership of the Likud party, said on Sunday that Israel should take "bold and daring" action to prevent Iran from fufilling its goal of obtaining nuclear weapons, just as Israel once did with Iraq.

Israeli planes bombed Iraq's nuclear reactor in Osiraq in 1981 shortly before it was to become active. But similar efforts directed at Iran might be more difficult, as Iran's nuclear facilities are said to be more numerous, spread out, and better defended.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reiterated on Sunday that Israel would not tolerate a nuclear Iran. Last week the head of Israeli military intelligence said that diplomatic efforts would be fruitless after March 2006.

In reaction to the various Israeli comments, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said on Sunday that if the "Zionist regime" makes a mistake, Iran's reaction would be harsh and unavoidable.

In his interview, ElBaradei cautioned Iran and the West against escalating the brinkmanship.

Israel does not want to be viewed as leading the charge against Iran. Israel argues that a nuclear Iran is a threat not only to Israel but to the wider Middle East and Europe.

Halutz said if diplomatic efforts did not succeed in forcing Iran to suspend its nuclear program, then "physical pressure" could be applied to Iran, but when and by whom he could not say.

"There are options worldwide," said Halutz.

Asked if it is militarily possible to stop Iran, Halutz said without elaborating that, "Theoretically there is a way to stop anything. Practically it is not easy."

How far is Israel willing to go to stop the Iranian program? "Two thousand kilometers," he replied.

Israel is a little less than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) from Bushehr, where Russia is helping Iran complete the construction of its nuclear reactor.

Dr. Ephraim Kam, deputy director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, said a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities would be much more difficult than the one Israel carried out against Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981.

First, Iran is further away from Israel than Iraq was. The greater distance would complicate an air strike but wouldn't make it impossible, Kam said.

Also, Iran's various nuclear functions (uranium enrichment, conversion and weaponizing) are carried out in different locations. They all would have to be hit at once to stop the program, he said.

"[Also] the Iranians have learned a lesson [from Iraq]," he said. "They are much better prepared. They are expecting an attack, whether from the U.S. or Israel. [Their facilities] are much better protected [and] buried deep in the ground."

Israel estimates it will be three to six years before Iran has its first nuclear bomb, Kam said.

But it is only a matter of months before Iran reaches the point of no return - the point at which Iran obtains the know-how for enriching uranium, he said.

Copyright 2005

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JERUSALEM -- It would be possible, but not easy, to launch a military strike on Iran to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons, Israel's army chief said, without offering any specifics. The comments came as hopes faded in Israel for a diplomatic solution to Iran's...
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