Israel can't go it alone against Iran: politicians, analysts
JERUSALEM (AFP) Jul 19, 2004
Israel cannot go it alone against Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program, as the Jewish state did against Iraq when it bombed a reactor in 1981, politicians and analysts say.

Israeli politicians routinely say an Iranian atomic weapons capability would be a threat to Israel's very existence, but almost all admit that this time, the problem concerns the entire region, if not the world.

In 1981, Israeli warplanes destroyed Iraq's Osirak nuclear facility after intelligence confirmed Baghdad's intention of producing weapons there.

"This is not an Israeli problem. This time it is a world problem," said Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Israeli parliament's foreign affairs and defense committee. "Iran is seeking to become a world power."

Under pressure from the United States, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is investigating Iran's nuclear activities.

The Islamic republic denies US charges that it has a clandestine weapons program, saying it wants nuclear power only for generating electricity.

Unlike Israel, which is widely thought to possess up to 200 nuclear warheads, Iran has signed up to the IAEA's nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

Steinitz, a member of hawkish Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud party, described Iran as "more ambitious than India, Pakistan or North Korea" -- three other new nuclear powers -- because it is seeking regional domination.

Iran revved up its nuclear program in the 1980s, when it was at war with Iraq and worried that Baghdad might develop the bomb.

US analyst Joseph Crincione said that while "Iran's motivations go far beyond Israel, that's accurate as far as it goes, but Israel is part of the mix."

Crincione, a non-proliferation expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think tank, said that "for the Arab and Muslim public, Israel looms very large."

Israeli analyst Israel Elad Altman said the Jewish state is "the original enemy" for Iran, adding that the fundamentalist regime in Tehran is "committed to the destruction of the state of Israel and Israel feels this as a very direct threat."

But Crincione said that even without Israel, Iran's ambitions would persist, as it seeks to be a regional power.

Iran "has a proud history stretching back millenniums and believes it has a unique role in the world," Crincione said. "It is not unreasonable for Iran to expect they would become in 50 or 100 years a major power in the world."

The question for non-proliferation is "whether nuclear weapons will still play a role in granting a nation great power status," he said.

Altman views Iran's nuclear designs as a component of "nation building." Having the bomb "puts you on a different scale internationally. It improves your nation's standing in the region," he said.

His colleague at the Institute for Policy and Strategy think tank, Schmuel Bar, said the Iranians were pushing ahead with their nuclear program because they can afford to, asking themselves, "What damage has been done? Have we sold one barrel less of oil?"

Bar said Iran could be prevented through economically damaging international sanctions from developing nuclear weapons, adding however that Tehran could avoid this by "adopting what we call premature posturing, giving the sense that it has more than it really does, that they can burn all of Israel" with nuclear weapons if necessary.

Ironically, this could be similar to what Israel has done with its "strategic ambiguity" policy of neither confirming nor denying it has nuclear weapons, even though it is widely believed that Israel has a sizeable nuclear arsenal.

Both Bar and Altman stressed the difficulties in moving militarily against Iran's program, as Israel did against Iraq in 1981.

The big difference is that the Iraqi program was "invested in a nuclear reactor" while the Iranian program is "diffused in different sites," Bar said.

"The level of intelligence and operational capability to take any action is immense," he said.

"You don't want to do something in order to have them get up later and thumb their nose at you," he said.

Iran's top national security official warned last month that Israel will suffer a "painful" response if it dares to attack any of Iran's nuclear facilities.

"I do not think Israel will make such a stupid move because it knows full well how we will respond," Hassan Rowhani said.