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Israel

Posturing Or Preparing For War? What’s Behind Israel’s Tough Words On Iran

Analysis: Israel has threatened Teheran with a military preemptive strike, but tougher sanctions may be what it is really after.

A drill last week in central Israel simulating a missile attack (Israel Defense Forces)
A drill last week in central Israel simulating a missile attack (Israel Defense Forces)
Serge Dumont

GENEVA - On Tuesday, sirens went off in and around Tel Aviv's International airport. Four days after a drill simulating an Iranian chemical missile attack on the Mikveh Israel Agricultural School, this week's training was meant to prepare the airport staff and residents of surrounding villages for a massive bombing by Iranian missiles and Hezbollah rockets.

According to recent polls, a narrow majority of Israelis support attacking Iran, with nearly as many people opposed to the idea. But 80% believe that no matter what, the situation is bound to blow up, and that Hezbollah as well as Hamas are sure to support Tehran with attacks targeting their country. That may explain why lines are stretching to get gas masks and why offers for survival kits have flourished on the web.

Last week, Nahum Barnea, a columnist for the popular daily Yedioth Aharonot, accused Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and his Defense Minister Ehud Barak of secretly planning an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities by the end of the year. The public debate that followed did nothing to reassure Israelis.

For Israeli leaders, a military strike is one of many options to be used at the right time. "It is a possibility, but only if the context warrants it and international sanctions are inefficient," says Tsahi Hanegbi, former President of the powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Commission at the Knesset. On Tuesday, Barak said his country "had yet to decide whether to launch a military operation against Iran" while saying he wasn't optimistic about the importance and efficiency of the international measures expected as a result of the IAEA report.

If Israel were to attack, it would need the support of the US because its own army would not be able to lead such a major war effort on its own. The Israeli army could hit several Iranian targets, but wouldn't be able to destroy all of Iran's facilities, let alone conduct a lengthy war during which Israel itself would risk destruction.

Single-minded preparation

Foreign Affairs Minister Silvan Shalom first got the international community's attention regarding the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran in 2003. Since then, Israel's military has been gearing up for the big day. Squadrons of F-15 and F-16 fighter-bombers were put together for that purpose. They train regularly to lead long-distance missions. In recent months, anti-bunker bombs were secretly bought from the United States. The arsenal of Jericho ballistic missiles capable of carrying a 750-kilo nuclear charge have been modernized and new spy-satellites were launched. As for the five dolphin submarines, they took part in secret drills with their foreign counterparts. The efficiency of Hetz missiles, which can intercept Iranian Shihab and Sejil missiles, was improved.

Many experts believe Israel's military threat is just a way of getting the international community to toughen its sanctions against Iran. But on the ground, the war between Iran and Israel has already started, albeit behind the scenes.

Between 2002 and 2010, Meir Dagan and the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad created a five-point plan to slow down the progress of Iran's nuclear industry, with the help of Western secret services, including the CIA. They disrupted underground supply routes, sabotaged part of the equipment acquired by Iran, launched computer attacks -- and also murdered or kidnapped scientists believed to be involved in building a bomb.

Some of these secret operations took place in Switzerland through a secret group led by Mossad's former director. Most of these actions were aimed at disrupting the computer centers of financial institutions through which Iranian funds were believed to be transiting.

Read the original article in French

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