Confrontation escalates between Iran and Israel
Iran tested the Shahab-3 missile, which could hit Israel or US Mideast bases.
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On Tuesday an aide to Iran's supreme religious leader told naval units that "the Zionist regime is putting White House leaders under pressure to stage a military strike against Iran," said Ali Shirazi. "If they do such a stupid thing, Tel Aviv and the US Navy [in the Persian Gulf] will be set on fire as Iran's first targets."Skip to next paragraph
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Israeli ministers have likewise declared that Israeli military strikes could be "unavoidable" if Iran's declared nuclear program makes any more progress on centrifuge technology. Iran says its efforts are for peaceful energy production; US, Israeli, and some Western officials say Iran aims for an atomic bomb.
"The United States is frankly unlikely to start anything with Iran for the rest of the Bush administration, but at the same time, almost for that reason, the Israelis are really getting very bothered and it's certainly possible that they might do something," says Paul Rogers, a professor of peace studies at the University of Bradford in Britain.
Israel probably sees two "windows of opportunity" closing, he says: the first, the deployment in Iran of new Russian air defense missiles in as little as two months, that could increase the risk to Israeli pilots; and second, the end of the Bush era.
"The bottom line from the Israeli perspective, and one can understand it, is they are not prepared to see any other state limit their nuclear monopoly in the region," says Mr. Rogers, author of a 2006 report "Iran: Consequences of a War" for the Oxford Research Group. "I do think the next four to five months represent a period of danger, but that danger is far more likely to come … from Israel rather than the US."
Efraim Inbar, head of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University, near Tel Aviv, says Israelis "don't see this as a provocation; they see it as part of the Iranian attempt to enhance their capabilities to reach Israel and even Europe beyond it."
"We're on a course for clashes already…. Our military is preparing for military action, and everybody knows it already," says Mr. Inbar, noting that several factors will influence Israel's calculations.
"There's an enrichment process clock, there's an American elections clock, and our own political system's clock," says Inbar. "Frankly, I don't believe that diplomacy works at this stage…. From my understanding, the Iranians are very keen to get the bomb. Only military action can prevent them from completing their uranium enrichment facilities."
The tests proved fodder for US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in Eastern Europe to sign a missile defense deal with the Czech Republic, and still try to convince a skeptical Poland to take part. She said the tests were "evidence that the missile threat is not an imaginary one."
"Those who say that there is no Iranian threat against which to be building missile defense perhaps ought to talk to the Iranians about … the range of the missiles that they test-fired," Ms. Rice said in Bulgaria.
The White House said the Iranian tests were a "provocation" and that Iran should "refrain from further missile tests if they truly seek to gain the trust of the world."