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Iran says it treats Israeli military threats as American

DUBAI | Wed Sep 5, 2012 7:01am EDT

(Reuters) – Iran makes no distinction between U.S. and Israeli interests and will retaliate against both countries if attacked, an Iranian military commander said on Wednesday.

The comments came after the White House denied an Israeli news report that it was negotiating with Tehran to keep out of a future Israel-Iran war and as U.S. President Barack Obama fends off accusations from his election rival that he is too soft on Tehran.

“The Zionist regime separated from America has no meaning, and we must not recognize Israel as separate from America,” Ali Fadavi, naval commander in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was quoted as saying by the Fars news agency.

“On this basis, today only the Americans have taken a threatening stance towards the Islamic Republic,” Fadavi said. “If the Americans commit the smallest folly they will not leave the region safely.”

Iran – which has missiles that could reach Israel and U.S. targets in the region – has conducted military exercises and unveiled upgraded weapons in recent months, aiming to show it can defend itself against any strike against its nuclear sites.

Israel – thought to be the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons – says the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran would pose a threat to its existence. Tehran denies it is developing weapons and says its nuclear program is peaceful.

With the approach of U.S. elections in November, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for a tougher stance against Iran – implicitly knocking Obama’s emphasis on diplomatic and sanctions pressure to halt Iranian nuclear work.

While Israel would expect U.S. backing if it decided to strike Iran, the top U.S. general has suggested Washington would not be drawn into a conflict.

“I don’t want to be complicit if they choose to do it,” Britain’s Guardian newspaper quoted Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey as saying.

Netanyahu abruptly ended a meeting of Israel’s security cabinet on Wednesday, saying someone in the forum had leaked details of its discussions on Iran.

Any decision to go to war against Iran would, by Israeli law, require the approval of the security cabinet. One government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said no such decisions had been on the table at Tuesday’s meeting.

(Reporting By Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Reuters

‘Sparks fly’ over US policy on Iran at meeting between Netanyahu and US envoy

Prime minister bashes Obama’s ineffectual stance, US Ambassador Shapiro says he’s misrepresenting president’s position, newspaper claims

By Ilan Ben Zion August 31, 2012, 4:35 pm

Tensions between the Israeli and United States governments reached fever pitch over the issue of Iran’s nuclear program in a recent high-level meeting between the prime minister and the American ambassador, Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Friday.

Last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a closed-door meeting with visiting Congressman and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers and American Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro. Netanyahu opened the discussion by lambasting the Obama administration for what he considered its ineffectual policy vis à vis Iran.

Netanyahu then expressed his belief that the US should be pressuring Iran to stop its nuclear program rather than pressuring Israel not to attack.

“Instead of effectively pressuring Iran, Obama and his people are pressuring us not to attack the nuclear facilities,” he reportedly said. He concluded by saying that the time for diplomacy had run out, the Yedioth report said.

At one point during the meeting, Shapiro grew enraged by Netanyahu’s remarks, broke diplomatic protocol, and snapped at the PM, saying he was misrepresenting Obama’s position on Iran.

According to a source at the meeting, “sparks and lightning were flying.”

The US embassy did not comment on the Yedioth Ahronoth report.

Source

Israel to delay strike on Iran until after US elections?

White House tells Sunday Times Obama pressed Netanyahu to postpone Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities until after November, adding president ‘might visit Israel in summer’

Israel will only strike Iranian nuclear facilities in September or after the United States presidential elections in November, a White House official told the British Sunday Times newspaper after a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama last week.
According to the report, Obama has taken Israel’s warnings about a possible strike in Iran very seriously. The Washington source added that the president “might visit in the summer to reassure the Israelis that the US commitment to defend Israel is unshakable and thus thwart a possible autumn attack.”

Obama insisted that any attack on Iran should be postponed until after the US presidential elections in November, possibly even until next spring. The source revealed that Netanyahu consented to delaying a strike, but wished to know until when. “The question is how much time,” he reportedly said.

The White House source added that Netanyahu presented a number of demands Iran must fulfill in order to avoid an Israeli attack, including transferring 150 kilograms (330 pounds) of enriched uranium to a third party, stopping the enrichment process at the Fordow site near Qom and ceasing any further enrichment beyond the 3.5% required for power generation.

The source reported that Israel’s National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror presented US administration and military officials with new intelligence data about Iran’s nuclear program. The findings included “Project 111,” a project to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile warhead and conduct large-scale high-explosive experiments, the Sunday Times reported. Amidror also noted that a Russian expert in Tehran had been involved for the past six years in helping develop Iran’s nuclear program.

Israel rejected US claims that any official order from Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to develop a nuclear bomb would soon reach them.

In the meeting, one Israel official told the Americans: “We’ll not know beforehand about such an order, you’ll not know, and probably Allah himself will not know. The time we’ll know for sure is when we wake up to a nuclear test.”

Ynet

Israel to delay strike on Iran until after US elections?  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards.

IAEA has "serious concerns" as Iran boosts nuclear work

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By Fredrik Dahl

VIENNA | Mon Mar 5, 2012 7:36am EST

(Reuters) – Iran has tripled its monthly production of higher-grade enriched uranium and the U.N. nuclear watchdog has “serious concerns” about possible military dimensions to Tehran‘s atomic activities, the agency’s chief said on Monday.

Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also told the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors about the lack of progress in two rounds of talks between the Vienna-based U.N. agency and Tehran this year.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were to meet shortly in Washington to discuss Iran, deeply at odds over the timing for possible last-resort military action against Iran’s nuclear program.

Even though Obama offered assurances of stiffened U.S. resolve against Iran before the White House meeting, the two allies remained far apart over explicit nuclear “red lines” that Tehran should not be allowed to cross.

Iran denies suspicions that it is covertly seeking nuclear weapons capability, in part by coordinating efforts to process uranium, test high explosives and revamp a ballistic missile cone to accommodate a nuclear warhead.

But its refusal to curb sensitive atomic work that can have both civilian and military applications has drawn increasingly tough U.N. and Western sanctions against the major oil producer.

During the meetings in the Iranian capital in January and February, Iranian officials stonewalled the IAEA’s requests for access to a military site seen as central to its investigation into the nature of the Islamic state’s nuclear activity.

“The agency continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program,” Amano told the closed-door meeting, according to a copy of his speech.

NO CREDIBLE ASSURANCES

The IAEA “is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities,” he added.

A report by the IAEA to member states last month said Iran was significantly stepping up uranium enrichment, a finding that sent oil prices higher on fears that tensions between Tehran and the West could boil over into military conflict.

Since the IAEA’s previous report in November, Amano said Iran has tripled monthly production of uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20 percent – well above the level usually needed to run nuclear power plants.

Though indicated by the IAEA’s confidential report last month, it was the first time Amano spoke in public about this rapid increase in Iran’s enrichment activities, which has stoked Western and Israeli suspicions about Tehran’s nuclear agenda.

The Islamic Republic says the more highly refined uranium will replenish the dwindling special fuel stocks of a Tehran reactor that produces medicinal isotopes.

But 20 percent enrichment, experts say, also represents most of the technical effort needed to attain the 90 percent threshold required for nuclear explosions.

Much of this work is carried out deep inside a mountain at Iran’s underground Fordow facility to better shield it against military strikes, and further expansion is planned.

Despite intensive discussions with Iran, Amano said, there had been no agreement on a “structured approach” to resolve outstanding issues with its nuclear program during the talks held in January and February.

Iran “did not address the agency’s concerns in a substantive manner,” Amano said.

Making clear, however, that he would keep trying to engage Iran on the issue, he added: “Regarding future steps, the agency will continue to address the Iran nuclear issue through dialogue and in a constructive spirit.”

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Worst oil crisis could lie just ahead

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David Uren, Senior Economics Correspondent
From: The Australian
March 05, 2012 12:00AM

THE threat of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities has pushed world oil prices up by 15 per cent in the past month and raised fears that the fissile geopolitics of the Middle East might once again spell global economic havoc.

Israel believes Iran’s nuclear program is approaching a point of no return beyond which it would be impossible to prevent it developing nuclear weapons.

US President Barack Obama is expected to press Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to defer action in talks in Washington today, to give time for sanctions to have full effect.

Facing an election in November and enjoying the first rays of economic sunshine since the 2008 global financial crisis, Obama does not need a Middle East war and soaring oil prices.

However, there is a strong push in Israel for military action.

“If we do not stop Iran now, later on it will be impossible,” Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon says.

Israel, which is understood to have its own nuclear weapons, sees a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat.

Saudi Arabia has indicated it would seek nuclear capability if Iran achieved it, adding further uncertainty to the stability of the world’s richest oil region.

The next three months are the most likely time for an attack as Iranian skies are clearest during the northern spring.

Iran has declared it will close the Strait of Hormuz as a first point of retaliation for any Israeli raid.

The strait is the seaway through which the oil of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Iran and the United Arab Emirates is shipped.

Giant oil tankers carrying 18 million barrels of oil every day travel down the 10km-wide outbound shipping channel. This represents a quarter of the world’s oil supply and 40 per cent of seaborne oil trade.

If Iran could block the strait, it would represent a greater disruption to the world’s supplies than those that followed the 1973 oil embargo after the Yom Kippur war, the 1978 Iranian revolution, the 1980 Iraq-Iran conflict or the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

The International Monetary Fund has warned that the world is ill-prepared for a new oil crisis. In a paper prepared for last weekend’s G20 finance ministers’ meeting in Mexico and released on Friday, the IMF said developed countries had run down their emergency stocks while spare capacity in the OPEC countries was no more than average.

“A halt of Iran’s exports to OECD economies without offset from other sources could trigger an initial oil price increase of around 20-30 per cent,” the fund said. “A sustained blockade of the Strait of Hormuz would lead to a much stronger and unprecedented disruption of global oil supply.”

The Australian government is expressing confidence that a crisis could be managed; however, the scale of the turmoil that would flow from a Hormuz Strait closure would far exceed the government’s contingency planning.

The shock from soaring oil prices would also undermine the emerging hopes for a global economic recovery, damaging consumer and business confidence and depressing the terms of trade for oil-importing nations.

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson told The Australian that any reduction of oil throughput in the Strait of Hormuz would inevitably affect global supply.

“The possible impact on Australia will depend on a range of factors, including the length of disruption.”

He said the national energy security assessment completed last year had established that the security of Australia’s supplies of liquid fuels was “robust, with resilience enabling the market to adjust to meet demand in the event of temporary global shocks”.

However, the Australian government is as politically exposed to a new oil crisis as is the Obama administration. Already, the rising oil price is feeding the Coalition’s argument that Australia can ill afford to be introducing carbon taxes.

It will put increasing pressure on the cost of living.

If rising prices turn into a full-blown oil crisis over the next few months, the case for abandoning the introduction of the July 1 start-up for the carbon tax would become overwhelming.

Australia is far more vulnerable to an oil crisis than the level of direct imports from the Middle East would suggest.

Australia’s oil refineries, which still supply 70 per cent of domestic petroleum products, depend on the Middle East for barely 15 per cent of their crude oil supplies.

Domestic oil wells, mostly in Bass Strait, supply 20 per cent, while the balance comes from more than 20 nations including Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Nigeria and New Zealand.

However, Australia also imports 30 per cent of its refined petroleum products, mostly from Singapore, which depends on the Middle East for more than 80 per cent of its supplies.

The Australian government conducted a review of its energy security late last year. The consulting firm ACIL Tasman modelled a supply disruption in which Singapore’s refineries were out of action for 30 days, depriving the region of 1.4 million barrels a day of production.

This would be similar to the effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which knocked out Gulf of Mexico oil production and US oil refining in 2005.

One of the study’s authors, Alan Smart, says the shortfall pushed up prices but this was sufficient to close the gap, with demand falling and new supplies becoming available.

“When the price spiked, the market responded very quickly with the gap filled within six days.”

The study concluded that the same could be expected were Australia to lose access to Singapore supplies, with spare capacity elsewhere in Asia quickly brought onstream.

The study found that although prices would rise by 18 per cent, there would be no interruption to economic activity in Australia.

Smart cautions, however, that a localised or regional supply problem such as a refinery shutdown, may be very different from the results of a war in the Middle East.

Singapore analyst with the oil research company Wood Mackenzie Sushant Gupta says that scenarios for a closure of the strait show a major impact on oil supplies throughout the Asian region.

“There is a high dependency on Middle East crude, not just in Singapore, with some economies taking more than 90 per cent of their crude from there.”

Gupta says the spare capacity in the Asian refining industry would be of no use to Australia if the refineries could not get access to crude supplies.

Moreover, countries throughout the region would be principally concerned to secure their own domestic supplies. Countries such as South Korea, which import petroleum but export refined products would divert more of their output to their own market.

Exports from countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia could also fall, at least as a short-term response.

Gupta says that in the event of shortages, Australia would suffer from being at the greatest distance from the regional refineries.

“All the Asian countries will be competing for the same barrels of produce from Singapore. The premium on the products will increase and the countries closest physically to Singapore will have the advantage due to freight.”

Gupta said there would be no additional supplies coming forward to meet shortfalls from Singapore, so it would be up to the market, with a spike in prices, to reduce demand.

So, although Australia currently draws the bulk of its supplies from non-Middle East supplies, the reality is that it is self-sufficient for only 20 per cent of supplies, and the market’s ability to supply the rest would be tested by an extended blockade in the Gulf.

An immediate response would be the drawdown of emergency supplies kept by all nations that are members of the International Energy Agency.

The IEA was established among oil importing countries in the wake of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo and requires all members to keep a minimum of 90 days’ supplies.

In Australia’s case, the reserves are held by the major oil companies as part of their normal commercial operations. The steady slide in Australia’s domestic oil supply has meant that Australia’s reserves are falling short of the requirement, currently standing at 88 days.

ACIL-Tasman warns that the shortfall is likely to increase over coming years; however, it is not enough to make a meaningful difference to Australia’s ability to withstand a crisis.

Ferguson retains sweeping powers under the Liquid Fuels Emergency Act to order the oil companies to give priority to essential fuel users in the event that the nation were confronted with physical fuel shortages.

It is not certain that Iran would succeed in an effort to block the strait, despite the total width of the waterway narrowing to 40km.

Many tankers were sunk during the Iran-Iraq war in the early 1980s; however, shipping technology has greatly advanced since then.

Although modern ships ostensibly make a much larger target, carrying as much as two million barrels of oil each, they are divided into sealed compartments with double-hulls and are much harder to stop or sink, even than warships.

US analysis finds that an attack on one of these vessels by three anti-ship cruise missiles would have only a 12 per cent chance of stopping it.

The same research project found Iran would have to sow a minefield with more than 1000 advanced mines, a task that would take several months, to disrupt shipping, and that would succeed in disabling only half a dozen ships.

The head of the US joint chiefs of staff, General Martin Dempsey, has said Iran would have the capacity to block the strait, but only for a short period.

“We’ve invested in capabilities to ensure that if that happens, we can defeat that.”

The US Fifth Fleet, stationed on the other side of the Persian Gulf in Bahrain, including more than 20 ships including aircraft carriers, could overwhelm the sort of “small suicide boat” attacks which the US believes Iran is planning and provides a credible support to tanker fleet.

American oil researcher Amy Myers Jaffe says it would be difficult for Iran to stop the flow of oil from the Arabian Gulf for long, if at all.

What is beyond doubt, however, is that the moment Israeli aircraft start bombing Iran, the oil price will jump. It has already risen from about $US105 a barrel to $US125 since the start of the year.

The impact on Australia has been diluted by the strength of our currency, which means wholesale petrol prices have risen by only 5.5 per cent this year, but further rises are in prospect.

An analysis by Barclays Capital suggests the oil price would rise to $US150 to $US200 a barrel in the event of an attack; however, estimates are imprecise.

As well as the loss of supply, there would be additional demand from buyers seeking precautionary stocks.

Westpac’s head of international economics, Huw McKay says the world economy remains vulnerable to oil price spikes and adds this was shown in the first half of last year when the Arab Spring pushed oil prices higher.

“That put a spanner in the works for the United States economy at a time when it had finished calendar 2010 with a bit of an upswing. When it ran into the high oil prices and then the Japanese tsunami, the US had a very underwhelming first half year.”

Mr McKay says the situation is similar, with consumers beginning to show a revival in demand. “What the US consumer doesn’t need is a fuel tax hitting them.”

The jump in petrol prices both damages consumer spending and causes an exodus from US motor vehicle industry.

Higher oil prices will also damage the economies of Asia. In several Asian economies, including India and Indonesia, government subsidies to petrol means that rising fuel prices results in a loss of control over the budget.

Source

Israel delivers ultimatum to Barack Obama on Iran’s nuclear plans

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Last year Iran test-fired surface-to-surface missiles capable of reaching Israel Photo: EPA

At Monday’s meeting between Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama the Israeli prime minister will deliver a stark warning, reports Adrian Blomfield in Jerusalem

By Adrian Blomfield, in Jerusalem

8:31PM GMT 03 Mar 2012

Their relationship, almost from the outset, has been frostier than not, a mutual antipathy palpable in many of their previous encounters.

Two years ago, Barack Obama reportedly left Benjamin Netanyahu to kick his heels in a White House anteroom, a snub delivered to show the president’s irritation over Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank. In May, the Israeli prime minister struck back, publicly scolding his purse-lipped host for the borders he proposed of a future Palestinian state.

When the two men meet in Washington on Monday, Mr Obama will find his guest once more at his most combative. But this time, perhaps as never before, it is the Israeli who has the upper hand.

Exuding confidence, Mr Netanyahu effectively brings with him an ultimatum, demanding that unless the president makes a firm pledge to use US military force to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb, Israel may well take matters into its own hands within months.

The threat is not an idle one. According to sources close to the Israeli security establishment, military planners have concluded that never before has the timing for a unilateral military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities been so auspicious.

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It is an assessment based on the unforeseen consequences of the Arab Spring, particularly in Syria, which has had the result of significantly weakening Iran’s clout in the region.

Israel has always known that there would be an enormous cost in launching an attack on Iran, with the Islamist state able to retaliate through its proxy militant groups Hamas and Hizbollah, based in Gaza and Lebanon respectively, and its ally Syria.

Each is capable of launching massive rocket strikes at Israel’s cities, a price that some senior intelligence and military officials said was too much to bear.

But with Syria preoccupied by a near civil war and Hamas in recent weeks choosing to leave Iran’s orbit and realign itself with Egypt, Iran’s options suddenly look considerably more limited, boosting the case for war.

“Iran’s deterrent has been significantly defanged,” a source close to Israel’s defense chiefs said. “As a result some of those opposed to military action have changed their minds. They sense a golden opportunity to strike Iran at a significantly reduced cost.” Not that there would be no cost at all. With the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas has chosen to throw its lot in with its closest ideological ally and forsake Iran and its funding, but it could still be forced to make a token show of force if smaller groups in Gaza that are still backed by Tehran unleash their own rockets.

Likewise, Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, could seek to reunite his fractured country with military action against Israel.

Iran would almost certainly launch its long-range ballistic missiles at Israel, while Hizbollah, with an estimated arsenal of 50,000 rockets, would see an opportunity to repair its image in the Middle East, battered as a result of its decision to side with Mr Assad.

Even so, it is not the “doomsday scenario” that some feared, and a growing number in the security establishment are willing to take on the risk if it means preventing the rise of a nuclear power that has spoken repeatedly of Israel’s destruction.

“It won’t be easy,” said a former senior official in Israel’s defense ministry. “Rockets will be fired at cities, including Tel Aviv, but at the same time the doomsday scenario that some have talked of is unlikely to happen. I don’t think we will have all out war.” In itself, the loss of two of Iran’s deterrent assets would probably not be enough to prompt Israel to launch unilateral military action.

The real urgency comes from the fact that Israeli intelligence has concluded that it has only between six and nine months before Iran’s nuclear facilities are immune from a unilateral military strike.

After that, Iran enters what officials here call a “zone of immunity”, the point at which Israel would no longer be able, by itself, to prevent Tehran from becoming a nuclear power.

By then, Israel assesses, Iran will have acquired sufficient technological expertise to build a nuclear weapon. More importantly, it will be able to do so at its Fordow enrichment plant, buried so deep within a mountain that it is almost certainly beyond the range of Israel’s US-provided GBU-28 and GBU-27 “bunker busting” bombs.

It is with this deadline in mind that Mr Netanyahu comes to Washington. Mr Obama’s administration has little doubt that their visitor’s intent is serious. Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, stated last month that there was a “strong likelihood” of Israel launching an attack between April and June this year.

Senior US officials have, unusually, warned in public that such a step would be unwise and premature, a sentiment echoed by William Hague, the Foreign Secretary.

Mr Obama is determined that beefed up US and EU sanctions targeting Iran’s central bank and energy sector be given the chance to work and is desperate to dissuade Israel from upsetting his strategy.

But to give sanctions a chance, Mr Netanyahu would effectively have to give up Israel’s ability to strike Iran and leave the country’s fate in the hands of the United States – which is why he is demanding a clear sign of commitment from the American president.

“This is the dilemma facing Israel,” the former senior military officer said. “If Iran enters a zone of immunity from Israeli attack can Israel rely on the United States to prevent Iran going nuclear?”

Mr Netanyahu’s chief demand will be that Washington recognizes Israel’s “red lines”. This would involve the Barack administration shifting from a position of threatening military action if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon to one of warning of the use of force if Tehran acquired the capability of being able to build one.

Mr Obama will be reluctant to make such a commitment in public, though he might do so in private by pledging action if Iran were to expel UN weapons inspectors or begin enriching uranium towards the levels needed to build a bomb, according to Matthew Kroenig, a special adviser to the Pentagon on Iran until last year.

“Israel is facing the situation of either taking military action now or trusting the US to take action down the road,” Mr Kroenig, an advocate of US military strikes against Iran, said. “What Netanyahu wants to get out of the meeting are clear assurances that the US will take military action if necessary.” The American president may regard Mr Netanyahu as an ally who has done more to undermine his Middle East policy of trying to project soft power in the Arab world than may of his foes in the region.

But, on this occasion at least, he will have to suppress his irritation.

Mr Netanyahu is well aware that his host is vulnerable to charges from both Congress and his Republican challengers for the presidency that he is weak on Iran, and will seek to exploit this as much as possible.

Tellingly, Palestinian issues, the principal source of contention between the two, will be sidelined and Mr Obama has already been forced to step up his rhetoric on Iran beyond a degree with which he is probably comfortable.

Last week, in a notable hardening of tone, he declared his seriousness about using military force to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, saying: “I do not bluff.” Yet whatever commitments he might give to Mr Netanyahu it is far from clear that it will be enough to dissuade Israel from taking unilateral action.

Among the Israeli public, there is a sense of growing sense that a confrontation with Iran is inevitable. Overheard conversations in bars and restaurants frequently turn to the subject, with a growing popular paranoia fed by the escalation in bomb shelter construction, air raid siren testing and exercises simulating civilian preparedness for rocket strikes.

Last week, Israeli newspapers fretted that the government was running short of gas masks, even though more than four million have already been doled out.

But while the growing drumbeat of war is unmistakable, it is unclear whether or not Mr Netanyahu, for all his bellicose rhetoric, has yet fully committed himself to the cause.

Ostensibly, a decision for war has to be approved by Mr Netanyahu’s inner cabinet. But everyone in Israel agrees that the decision ultimately rests with Ehud Barak, the defense minister who is unabashedly in favor of military action, and, most importantly, the prime minister.

“Netanyahu is a much more ambiguous and complex character,” said Jonathan Spyer, a prominent Israeli political analyst. “We know where Barak stands but with Netanyahu it is less clear.

“Netanyahu is not a man who likes military adventures. His two terms as prime minister have been among the quietest in recent Israeli history. Behind the Churchillian character he likes to project is a very much more cautious and vacillating figure.”

Were Mr Netanyahu to overcome his indecisiveness, as many observers suspect he will, real questions remain about how effective an Israeli unilateral strike would be.

With its US-supplied bunker busters, Israel’s fleet of F-15i and F-16i fighter jets, and its recently improved in-air refueling capabilities, Israel could probably cause significant damage to the bulk of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including the Natanz enrichment plant.

But the second enrichment plant at Fordow, buried beneath more than 200 feet of reinforced concrete, could prove a challenge too far.

“Natanz yes, but I don’t think they could take out Fordow,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, an Iran expert at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London. “They could take out the entrance ramps but not the facility itself.”

With its Massive Ordnance Penetrator bunker busters, each weighing almost 14 tonnes, the United States stands a much better chance of striking Fordow successfully, thus disrupting Iran’s nuclear programme for far longer than the one to three years delay an Israeli attack is estimated to cause.

But whether Israeli is prepared to leave its fate in American hands is another matter.

“Israelis are psychologically such that they prefer to rely on themselves and not on others, given their history,” the Israeli former senior defense ministry official said. “We feel we have relied on others in the past, and they have failed us.”

Source

Obama says not bluffing on Iran military option

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By Matt Spetalnick and Jeffrey Heller
WASHINGTON/OTTAWA | Fri Mar 2, 2012 8:14pm EST

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama issued his most direct threat yet of U.S. military action against Iran if it builds a nuclear weapon, but in a message to Israel’s leader ahead of White House talks he also cautioned against a pre-emptive Israeli strike.

“As president of the United States, I don’t bluff,” Obama warned Iran in a magazine interview published on Friday, three days before he will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington.

With the meeting expected to be dominated by stark differences over what Washington fears could be an Israeli attack on Tehran‘s nuclear sites, Netanyahu said he wanted to preserve the “freedom of action of the State of Israel in the face of threats to wipe us off the map.”

Monday’s talks are shaping up as the most consequential encounter of U.S. and Israeli leaders in years, with tensions further magnified by Republican presidential candidates slamming Obama over his Middle East policy.

Further complicating the talks is a trust deficit between the two men, who have had a rocky relationship.

There is mounting speculation that Israel, which fears that time is running out to stop Iran’s nuclear advance, could act militarily on its own in coming months unless it receives stronger reassurances from Washington.

Netanyahu is trying to convince Obama to more forcefully define the nuclear threshold that Iran must not cross, while the U.S. president wants to convince Israel to hold off on any unilateral strike and give sanctions and diplomacy more time to work.

Both leaders talked tough ahead of their meeting.

“I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say,” Obama said in an interview with the Atlantic magazine.

Obama repeated the U.S. refrain that “all options are on the table” but spoke in his most direct terms yet of a possible U.S. military response if sanctions and diplomacy fail to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

“It includes a military component. And I think people understand that,” Obama said when asked about U.S. intentions on Iran, which insists it is not trying to develop nuclear weapons.

While acknowledging Netanyahu’s “profound responsibility” to protect the Israeli people, Obama cited “potential unintended consequences” as he made clear that it would be unwise for Israel to go ahead with any attack on Iran.

“At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally, (Syria) is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim?”

Obama cannot afford to be too tough on Netanyahu, with Republican presidential candidates ready to pounce on any sign of a rift with close U.S. ally Israel. But Obama’s aides are also worried that a new war in the Middle East could sow chaos and bring further spikes in global oil prices.

It was unclear, however, whether Obama’s sharpened rhetoric on Iran would be enough to placate Netanyahu, who was visiting Canada on Friday before flying to Washington on Sunday.

Netanyahu on Friday ruled out the idea of international talks to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, a possibility has raised in recent weeks as sanctions have started to take a heavier toll.

“I think the international community should not fall into this trap,” he told reporters in Ottawa after talks with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan; Editing by Anthony Boadle)

Obama warned Israel against Iran strike

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With growing concern over Israeli strike, US administration working to receive assurances from Jerusalem it won’t attack nuclear sites, boosting presence in Gulf region

Orly Azoulay

Published:
01.15.12, 09:59 / Israel News

The US administration has spent the last few days working frantically to prevent an Israeli strike on Iran and reinforcing presence in the region in preparation for Iranian counter attacks, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Sunday.

Israeli state officials suggested Saturday that the sanctions against Tehran were not sufficient, which works to enhance US concern over an Israeli strike.

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US President Barack Obama is operating several secret channels to deliver messages to all sides. On Thursday, Obama spoke to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and warned him of the serious consequences of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The Wall Street Journal reported that US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other top officials have privately sought assurances from Israeli leaders in recent weeks that they won’t take military action against Iran and will allow further sanctions to be imposed on the Islamic Republic. It was also reported that US Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will meet with Israeli military officials in Tel Aviv next week.

US defense officials claim that the Israeli response has been noncommittal. Some American intelligence officials complain that Israel represents a blind spot in US intelligence, which devotes little resources to Israel, the WSJ said.

The officials accused the Israeli security establishment of playing a “good cop, bad cop” routine and increasing uncertainty in Washington.

This ambiguity has led the US administration to believe that Netanyahu has plans to attack and the US is therefore preparing for the outcomes of such a strike.

The US military is preparing for a number of possible responses to an Israeli strike, including assaults by pro-Iranian Shiite militias in Iraq against the US Embassy in Baghdad, the WSJ said.

According to the report, the US has 15,000 troops in Kuwait and has moved a second aircraft carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf area.

It has also been pre-positioning aircraft and other military equipment, officials say. Arms transfers to key allies in the Gulf, including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, have been fast-tracked as a further deterrent, officials say.

Disappointment with sanctions

According to messages by Israeli state officials over the weekend, the US is right to be concerned. Israeli officials did not deny reports of growing American concern and sent a clear message that Israel was disappointed with the sanctions against Iran.

One source said that without an immediate toughening of sanctions which will include action against Iran’s central bank and its ability to export oil, Tehran will never consider halting its nuclear program. They also criticized the fact that the White House failed to adopt a Congress decision to act firmly against Iran’s central bank.

Netanyahu addressed the matter in an interview with The Australian. “For the first time, I see Iran wobble under the sanctions that have been adopted and especially under the threat of strong sanctions on their central bank,” he said. “If these sanctions are coupled with a clear statement by the international community, led by the US, to act militarily to stop Iran if sanctions fail, Iran may consider not going through the pain. There’s no point gritting your teeth if you’re going to be stopped anyway.”

US President Obama also sent a firm message to Iran’s spiritual leader Ali Khamenei and stressed that closing the Strait of Hormuz would be crossing a red line which would lead to counter action by the US.

Yedioth Ahronoth also reported that IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz is slated to attend a line of high-profile international events this week. He is scheduled to attend a military chiefs conference in Brussels, hold a meeting with NATO’s chief of staff and host US Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Israel.

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