Israel buzzes over notion of attacking Iran
When a US secretary of State comes to town, all eyes are on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.Skip to next paragraph
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But as Condoleezza Rice's weekend visit here demonstrated, there is no issue dominating the agenda like the international standoff surrounding Iran's nuclear ambitions.
A report last week in one of Britain's leading newspapers, The Sunday Times, claimed that Israel was making preparations for a conventional attack on Iran to destroy its uranium enrichment facilities. Ms. Rice, asked in an Israeli television interview during her visit if the US would support such an Israeli strike, gave a reply that didn't exactly douse the smoldering signals emanating from Israel and Iran. Rather, the fact that some kind of a confrontation is now talked about openly, she said, is an indication of how grave the situation has become.
"I still think there is room for diplomacy, but even talk of such action shows how serious it would be for Iran to continue its actions unabated," Rice told Israel's Channel 10.
Israeli officials denied The Sunday Times report, but said Israel expects to see more intense diplomatic action against Iran if Iran does not comply with a UN resolution, passed in December, which gives the country two months to suspend its "proliferation of sensitive nuclear activities."
"Israel," says Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev, "is putting its entire support behind UN Security Council [Resolution] 1737. That gives the Iranians 60 days to act, and that's mid-February. If in February there's still more noncompliance, we'll need more robust diplomacy."
But Israel doesn't expect the issue to be solved by then, says Mr. Regev. "We think it's clear that other steps will be necessary," he adds. "It's important that the Iranian leadership be given a crystal-clear choice: either they cease their nuclear program, or they endanger their relationship with the rest of the world."
Rice's visit comes at a time in which nearly every think tank here is turning its spotlight on Iran, and asking rather publicly the questions that used to be asked only in the quiet of intelligence officials' chambers. Would Israel do a replay of its preemptive attack on Iraq's Osirak reactor a quarter-century ago, this time hitting Iran? Should it?
Israel has long treated its own nuclear program as a taboo topic. Last month, however, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in an interview with German television that Iran aspires to "possess nuclear weapons like US, France, Israel, and Russia." Israeli officials depicted it as a kind of a slip, as it was a divergence from Israel's longstanding policy of nuclear ambivalence.
Today, however, Israel's nuclear program is considered an unofficial fact. The country's stated policy is that it will not be the first to introduce weapons into the region.
It was the same newspaper, The Sunday Times, which published a controversial story on Israel's program in 1986, leading to an 18-year-long incarceration of Israeli technician Mordechai Vanunu, the main source for the story. Other publications have explored the possibility of a strike against Iran, including an April 2006 New Yorker article which revealed that the US was studying the option of hitting Iran's nuclear facilities.