Israel ‘likely’ to bomb Iran soon, says US official

Israeli jets like this F15 could strike targets across Iran © Getty Images

There is no prospect in the world Israel fears more than that of a nuclear Iran. With this scenario drawing ever closer, a conflict between the two countries may be imminent.

In recent weeks Israelis have watched as their government bolsters bomb shelters, tests sirens and launches long-range missiles into the sea. Are these preparations for a showdown with Iran?

According to US government insiders, the answer is yes. Reports emerging from the White House over the weekend say that America’s defence secretary, Leon Panetta, is already bracing for a war between Israel and Iran. Before the Spring is out, he believes, Israel will launch preemptive strikes against sites where Iran is believed to be enriching uranium – which could be used in a nuclear warhead.

The threat of an Iran-Israel war has been on the horizon for years, like a dark cloud. Now, that cloud looks likely to turn into a full-blown geopolitical thunderstorm. Why? Because Iran’s nuclear program is reaching a critical point of no return. Israeli intelligence predicts that by June Iran’s progress towards an atom bomb will be unstoppable.

With hard-line Iranian leaders describing the Jewish state as a ‘cancer’, Israelis view a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to their nation’s very existence. But the likelihood of war is limited by three key factors:

Firstly, Israel may be reluctant to attack without American support. Under President Barack Obama, the USA has shown little appetite for further conflict in the Middle East.

Moreover, some enrichment facilities may be impenetrable even with US aid. The Fordo plant, near Qom, is buried under a mountainside beneath 220 feet of concrete and bristles with anti-aircraft weaponry.

Then there is the threat of retaliation. Iran has links to militant group Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, which is thought to have as many as 50,000 missiles trained on Israeli cities.

The obstacles are great and the potential consequences dire – and Iran has not taken the final, decisive steps to build a bomb. It is possible that Israel’s tough talk is a ploy, exaggerating the Iranian threat to encourage more economic sanctions from the West.

Still, relations are more hostile than ever, so an imminent confrontation cannot be ruled out.

First strike

Supporters of a preemptive strike predict disaster if the West fails to act. Soon, they say, the chance to halt Iran’s nuclear programme will have vanished. In the hands of an extremist state like Iran, an atomic bomb would be a terrible threat. In the face of such a threat, bold and decisive action is the only response.

Bold solutions are always tempting, others reply, but they are rarely the right thing to do. It is simplistic to think the Iranian problem can be solved by a dramatic bombing raid, which would really just be dangerous and counterproductive. The real solutions – sanctions, diplomatic pressure, negotiation – are slow and frustrating. But they will, eventually, begin to work.

You Decide

  1. Is it hypocritical for countries like America to oppose nuclear programmes in other countries when they themselves have thousands of warheads?
  2. Is a ‘preemptive strike’ – hitting someone to prevent them hitting you – ever justified? If so, when?

Activities

  1. List three reasons why Israel should attack Iran and three reasons why it shouldn’t. Which reasons do you think are stronger?
  2. Hold a class debate on the following motion: ‘This house believes that violence never solves anything.’

Some People Say...

“To survive in this world, strike first and strike hard.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What’s the big deal about Iran going nuclear?
A nuclear Iran would be a formidable force, and could shatter the balance of power in the Middle East. Neighbouring countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey might respond by ratcheting up their own nuclear programmes.
How close is this scenario?
Iran insists that its motives are peaceable. Inspectors doubt this. Iran could, in theory, build a bomb within the year.
And if Israel does attack?
Apart from the unsettling consequences for peace in the Middle East, Iran could cause global economic turmoil by blocking access to much of the world’s oil.

Word Watch

Preemptive strikes
A preemptive strike is an attack on an enemy who you think is about to attack you; striking first to avoid being struck yourself.
Enriching uranium
Uranium is the only naturally occurring material that can be used to start a nuclear reaction. First, however, it must be ‘enriched’ by converting a less volatile version (or ‘isotope’) of the element, called U-238, into the more reactive isotope U-235. This process is complicated and expensive.
Hezbollah
Hezbollah, Arabic for ‘Party of God’, is an extremist group based in Lebanon and supported by Syria and Iran. Hezbollah has a significant arsenal of primitive rockets, which could be used to strike Israeli cities.
Economic sanctions
In November the USA tightened sanctions by banning financial institutions from dealings in the country and cutting off supplies of oil, Iran’s main export. Reports suggest that Iranians are suffering great hardships because of these sanctions, which may also be harming their nuclear programme.

Subjects

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