Iran tests short-range missiles amid nuclear dispute

Sunday's missile tests come after the US, Britain, and France revealed Iran's secret nuclear facility, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is urging US lawmakers to act now.

Ali Shaigan/Fars News Agency/AP
Iran launched a short-range Tondar missile in a drill on Sunday near the city of Qom, 80 miles south of Tehran.

A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Iran tested two types of missiles and a missile-launching system Sunday, according to the country's state-run Press TV news service.

The tests come ahead of this week's landmark talks between Iran, Germany, and the five members of the United Nations Security Council (US, Britain, France, China, and Russia) and just two days after President Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy accused Iran of building a secret uranium enrichment facility.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has denied that his nation is using its nuclear program to develop weapons and predicted that Messrs. Obama, Brown, and Sarkozy, would "regret" their very public revelation of Iran's secret facility at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, has seized upon the announcement to urge US leaders to act now against Iran.

In a series of phone conversations with a number of US senators and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Mr. Netanyahu is said to have called for "crippling sanctions" on Iran, reports the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said that this revelation has also caused much alarm among Arab and Muslim nations who are now worried "first and foremost" about Iran's nuclear program, reports Haaretz. Mr. Lieberman says that for many Arab nations concerns about Iran even transcend Israeli-Palestinian issues.

"This removes the dispute whether Iran is developing military nuclear power or not and therefore the world powers need to draw conclusions," Lieberman told Israel Radio. "Without a doubt it is a reactor for military purposes not peaceful purposes," Lieberman added.

Striking a more aggressive tone, Lieberman went on to say that the time has come for the international community to "overthrow the mad regime of Tehran," reports Israel's conservative Jerusalem Post. A senior Israeli official also told the paper that this was the "last opportunity for engagement with Iran" and that the international community is beginning to see that the "Iranian mask is slipping."

Although an Israeli strike remains a possibility, the tactical and political difficulties of pursuing a military solution will likely deter Israeli bombing runs over Iran, writes noted security scholar Anthony Cordesman in the Wall Street Journal. Iran's nuclear sites are spread throughout the country, meaning that to effectively stop the program Israeli bombers would have to strike a number of targets. Additionally, the distance between Iran's nuclear sites and Israel, about 950 and 1,400 miles would strain the limits of Israeli bombers.

At best, such action would delay Iran's nuclear buildup. It is more likely to provoke the country into accelerating its plans. Either way, Israel would have to contend with the fact that it has consistently had a "red light" from both the Bush and Obama administrations opposing such strikes. Any strike that overflew Arab territory or attacked a fellow Islamic state would stir the ire of neighboring Arab states, as well as Russia, China and several European states.

Additionally, Israeli politics are likely to stand in the way. Due to internal power dynamics, The New Ledger reports that Netanyahu could not carry out an attack without the support of his defense minister, Ehud Barak, and Mr. Barak is unlikely to sign off on such an attack.

…[D]espite Netanyahu and Leiberman's urgent statements, Barak's personality and his previous actions suggest that an Israeli strike is highly unlikely, precisely because of the current sense of political urgency. … With one notable exception (the 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon) he tends not to act rashly or emotionally; and plans his moves meticulously beforehand.
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