Israeli Defense minister implies a strike on Iran nuclear program is near

The current standoff with Iran is similar to the 'fateful' period before the 1967 Arab-Israel war, when Israel launched a preemptive strike, said Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Nir Elias/Reuters
Israel Defense minister Ehud Barak delivers his speech at the Herzliya Conference in Herzliya near Tel Aviv Thursday. He compared the current standoff with Iran to the 'fateful' period before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, when Israel launched a preemptive strike against Egypt.

Tensions between Israel and Iran are on the rise after a group of top Israeli leaders engaged in a round of saber-rattling on Thursday and Iran’s Supreme Leader answered on Friday with a pledge to "remove" Israel.

Speaking at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center's annual conference, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak compared the current standoff with Iran to the "fateful" period before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, when Israel launched a preemptive strike against Egypt.

At the same conference, Israel’s military intelligence chief, Aviv Kochavi said that Iran had enough nuclear material to make four bombs, and could construct a missile within three years. Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon warned that "an unconventional country can’t be allowed to have a nonconventional weapon" and that "a nuclear Iran would be the nightmare of the West."

Even though Israeli leaders have been heartened by international sanctions targeting Iran's nuclear program, which Iran insists is for peaceful purposes only,  the chorus of warnings from Israel reflect growing anxiety among some leaders that Iran may still obtain a nuclear bomb.  

"The temperature is rising in Israel," says Meir Javedanfar, an Iran analyst in Tel Aviv. He says that if the defense minister sees the current period as similar to the run-up to the [1967] Six-Day War, "that gives credibility to those who think Israel is going to launch an attack."

Israeli strike would be 'a gift' for Iran, says dissident

Amid the rising anxiety, an Iranian dissident who lives in exile in the US, came to the Jewish state this week to warn leaders here that a preemptive strike on Iran would be counterproductive.

Amir Abbas Fakhravar, whose visit got significant attention in the Israeli media, says that Israelis are right to take the threat of a nuclear Iran seriously. But he says he is telling Israeli leaders – among them officials at the Foreign ministry – that harsh economic sanctions like the oil embargo adopted by Europe have the potential to weaken the regime. An Israeli attack, on the other hand, would strengthen it.

"This will be the worst scenario. It will be a gift from God for [embattled Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad," he says. "After a limited military attack, they can act as a victim, go around the world, and get support and legitimacy from other little countries."

Mr. Fakhravar predicts that absent a strike economic sanctions will eventually bring down the Islamic regime and lead to a new government that would not seek nuclear weapons.

Fakhravar says that he spent five years in Iranian jails and was tortured for participating in student riots against the regime in 1999. He then fled in 2006 with the help of former US defense official Richard Perle. Reports in the US have questioned his credentials as an opposition leader. He was brought to Israel by an Israeli consulting group linked to Israel's opposition Kadima party, in cooperation with the Israeli embassy in Washington.

Netanyahu compares Iran to Nazi Germany

But while Fakhravar's credibility may be questioned, his view on Iran is shared by numerous Israeli security chiefs who have publicly cast doubt about the effectiveness of an Israeli strike, and warned about widespread damage from a regional war. Among them is former Mossad chief Meir Dagan.

Israeli leaders, however, remain skeptical that sanctions would stop Iran’s government gaining such a capability.

Comparing Iran’s regime to Nazi Germany, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said it is Israel’s right to act to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon.

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