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Netanyahu strike report boosts war fears
by Staff Writers
Tel Aviv, Israel (UPI) Nov 5, 2012

Israel ready to strike Iran 'if necessary': Netanyahu
Jerusalem (AFP) Nov 05, 2012 - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was ready to order a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities "if necessary", in an interview aired by Channel Two television on Monday.

"I am, of course, ready to press the button if necessary," Netanyahu said in the interview.

"I hope that that will not be the case. In the final reckoning, the responsibility rests with the prime minister and as long as I am prime minister, Iran will not have the atomic bomb," he said.

"If there's no other way, Israel is ready to act."

The Israeli premier's comments came on the eve of the US presidential election and after repeated and unsuccessful pressure from his government on President Barack Obama's administration to set a clear "red line" for military action against Iran.

They also came after Channel Two reported on Sunday that Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak had given orders in 2010 for the army to prepare an attack against Iranian nuclear facilities.

The orders were later rescinded in the face of the opposition of then chief of staff Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi and then Mossad spy chief Meir Dagan, the television said.

Israel, like its US ally, has consistently refused to rule out a resort to military action to prevent Iran developing the capability to build a nuclear weapon.

Iran denies any such ambition, insisting its nuclear programme is for peaceful power generation and medical purposes only.

The UN Security Council's five permanent members and Germany are involved in negotiations with Iran but several rounds of talks have failed to to produce much progress on increasing the transparency of Tehran's nuclear programme.

Netanyahu insisted Israel was "not rushing into war".

"If we can solve this issue with international pressure, that's even better... But we are serious. This is not a show," the hawkish prime minister said.

Israel, which has the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear arsenal, says it regards a nuclear Iran as a threat to its existence.

Ehud Barak has said he doubts negotiations could resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis and predicted that Israel would probably face a decision over whether to strike in 2013.

An Israeli television report that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ordered the Jewish state's military to prepare for a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities in 2010 has heightened war fears in the Middle East.

The move by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak was blocked by military commanders and the director of the Mossad intelligence agency, the Channel Two station reported in a documentary screened Monday.

The incident in 2010 -- the program reporter, Ilana Dayan, said military censors prevented her from using the exact date -- suggests that Netanyahu and Barak were prepared to risk triggering a Middle East war even though it's generally accepted Israel doesn't have the firepower to knock out Iran's nuclear project.

Netanyahu and Barak, a former military chief of staff and Netanyahu's commander when both were in the elite Sayaret Matkal special forces unit in the 1970s, are the main proponents of launching pre-emptive strikes against what they publicly perceive as an existential threat to Israel.

Washington has repeated warned the hawkish Netanyahu not to act unilaterally and urged he give time for a multitude of U.S. and EU sanctions endorsed by the United Nations to take effect.

This dispute has been a major source of friction between them since Netanyahu began his second period as prime minister in 2009.

In the meantime, the United States is engaged in an increasingly tense armed confrontation with Iran in the Persian Gulf.

The Channel 2 program said Netanyahu and Barak ordered the military to raise its level of preparedness for action to "P Plus," a designation signifying imminent action, to prevent Iran building a nuclear weapon.

The move was stymied by Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Mossad chief, Meir Dagan. Both have since become strong public opponents of unilateral Israeli action against Iran.

After Dagan went public, he famously declared that bombing Iran "is the stupidest thing I've ever heard."

As Mossad chief, he stepped up a clandestine war against Iran's nuclear project in a bid to forestall a war. His agents assassinated scientists and sabotaged it by infiltrating faulty equipment, and in 2009 apparently unleashed the notorious Stuxnet computer virus that destroyed part of the uranium-enrichment program.

Dagan and Ashkenazi have both since left office, Dagan after Netanyahu reportedly refused to extend his term as Mossad chief.

In recent weeks, when many feared Netanyahu might order a strike on Iran during the run-up to the U.S. presidential election, he's appeared to step back from pre-emptive strikes. But Middle Eastern and Western governments remain nervous that he might act unilaterally.

No one's really sure whether Netanyahu, who's displayed a zeal for wanting to hit Iran first, has really backed off.

Israeli generals have warned in recent weeks that such an attack would provoke an unprecedented missile assault on Israel by Iran, its allies Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and possibly even war-wracked Syria.

Even without Syria, Israel's northern neighbor and longtime adversary, the others are believed to have large missile arsenals.

Iran's reported to have 200-300 Shehab-3 intermediate-range ballistic missiles operational, with more accurate Sejjil-2 weapons under development.

By Israeli count, Hezbollah has more than 43,000 missiles and rockets, including hundreds capable of hitting anywhere in Israel.

Hamas only has shorter-range weapons but these can now reach the southern edge of greater Tel Aviv, Israel's main urban and industrial conurbation.

Israeli planners say these adversaries could unleash several hundred missiles a day on Israel's cities and strategic targets and keep that up for two months.

Officials predict fatalities will be around 500 at most. But with reports of the parlous state of Israel's civil defense network, including a severe shortage of gas masks, many fear the death toll will be far higher.

Concerns were boosted Oct. 23 when a munitions plant in Sudan, an ally of Iran, was destroyed in an air raid widely blamed on Israel. Many saw that long-range attack as a rehearsal for a larger airstrike on Iran.

Meantime, Israeli forces are conducting what appear to be non-stop exercises, including Austere Challenge 2012, described as the largest missile defense drill conducted with U.S. forces.

Last week, two top generals warned that Israel must, for the first time in years, face "unexpected security developments" on several fronts simultaneously.


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