Israel steps up warnings to Bush on Iran
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not be the only issue on his visit to Israel.
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Several senior Israeli officials, analysts, and military experts have been increasingly vocal about concerns that the recent National Intelligence Estimate report, which said Iran halted a secret nuclear arms program in 2003, takes the pressure off Iran and will spur them toward nuclear military capability.
Some here have said the NIE has put Israel on the defensive, making it feel isolated in its assessment of the threat. That could prompt Israel to act unilaterally against Iran, analysts say, a move that would certainly be resisted by Washington. Still, Mr. Bush has indicated that Iran is a key issue as he visits the region.
The president's Middle East trip comes at a moment when Tehran has returned to the diplomatic spotlight. On Tuesday, two Katyusha rockets, which Israel believes are supplied by Iran, that were fired from Lebanon hit Israel. It's unclear, however, who shot the rockets, but Katyushas are the weapon of choice for Iranian-backed Hizbullah against Israel.
Moreover, a standoff between Iranian and US warships in the Strait of Hormuz has reheated tensions between Tehran and Washington. On Monday, the Pentagon confirmed that five Iranian boats had harassed and threatened three US Navy warships in international waters.
Iranian officials played down the events, but the Pentagon deemed the Iranian actions "careless, reckless, and potentially hostile" and said Tehran should provide an explanation.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman says that during Mr. Bush's visit, the first in his presidency, Israel plans to place Iran as high and as prominently on the agenda as the recently resurrected Israeli-Palestinian peace track.
"We're concerned that the Iran nuclear program is going ahead," says Mark Regev. "We're concerned that there shouldn't be complacency in the international community, and ... that the headlines that came out of the NIE report could give comfort to the regime in Iran."
At a briefing late last week with recently retired military officials, who enjoy more leeway to speak about controversial issues in public than do sitting officials, several sounded alarm bells on Iran following the NIE report.
"It's very clear that it puts Israel in a corner and that means that decisionmakers will have to take very critical decisions because in the past we thought someone else was watching and that the world would take care of it," said retired Maj. Gen. Jacob Amidror.