Archive for the ‘minister benjamin netanyahu’ tag
Much like its air campaign against Hamas targets inside the Gaza strip, Israel’s airstrike in Syria looks like a well-timed tactical move?and the confusing media reports regarding the attack may be part of the plan.
The Jerusalem Post reports that a Western diplomatic source told Iraqi daily Azzaman that the attack took place more than 48 hours before it was leaked by Israel.
Furthermore, the source said the reports about a strike on a convoy carrying weapons into Lebanon were probably meant to divert attention away from the operation’s main objective: To use F-16 aircraft to fire at least eight guided missiles at a military research center near Damascus.
On Wednesday U.S. officials ? who said they were given forewarning of the strike ? told The Wall Street Journal and other outlets that the Israelis were targeting a convoy of trucks allegedly carrying Russian-made SA-17 missiles to Hezbollah.
Syria insisted that the reports about the convoy attack were “baseless,” and that the real target was a military research center in Jamraya, which lies about three miles from Damascus and eight miles from the Lebanese border.
Maj. Gen. Adnan Salo, a former head of the chemical weapons unit in the Syrian Army who defected and is now in Turkey, told The New York Times that the complex produces both conventional and chemical weapons.
The Azzaman source said that the complex is heavily fortified and houses experts from Russia and has been guarded for years by at least three thousand Iranian Revolutionary Guards, adding that the Guards suffered heavy casualties in the strike.
The Syrian rebel commander in the Damascus area told Reuters that rebels attacked the facility with “six 120 millimeter mortars” at about the same time that Israeli planes bombed the convoy.
But there has been no confirmation of the convoy attack besides unnamed diplomatic and rebel sources saying it occurred three miles south of where the main Damascus-Beirut highway crosses the border into Lebanon.
Nevertheless, both strikes fit Israel’s strategy.
The Associated Press reports that “Israeli military officials appear to have concluded that the risks of attacking Syria are worth taking when compared to the dangers of allowing sophisticated weapons to reach Hezbollah guerrillas.”
Transfer of the missiles “would be a game changer … by challenging the ability of Israel’s air force to carry out daily surveillance flights over southern Lebanon and eastern Lebanon along the border with Syria,” Jonathan Spyer, an analyst at the Interdisciplinary Center in Israel, told USA Today.
The attack comes at a time when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is too weak to risk opening a new front with Israel by retaliating.
“Syria is in such a bad state right now that an Israeli retaliation to a Syrian action would be harsh and could topple the regime,” Moshe Maoz, a professor emeritus at Hebrew University who specializes in Syria, told AP. “Therefore Syria is not responding.”
Meanwhile Iran is busy propping up Assad. On Thursday U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there are signs that Iran is sending growing numbers of people and increasingly sophisticated weaponry to Assad since he’s using up his weaponry.
And Israel appears to have the support of the West. On Thursday UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said that rather than condemning the the attack, attention should be focused on addressing ”the root causes” of the Syrian crisis. The White House warned Syria not to transfer weapons to Hezbollah.
Israeli lawmaker Tzachi Hanegbi told the AP that Israel has no choice but to launch pinpoint strikes on suspected transfers.
“Israel’s preference would be if a Western entity would control these weapons systems,” Hanegbi said. “But because it appears the world is not prepared to do what was done in Libya or other places, then Israel finds itself like it has many times in the past facing a dilemma that only it knows how to respond to.”
Whether one believes that Israel attacked a convoy or the Jamraya facility ? or both ? matters less than the fact that Israel has dealt a forceful blow to Syria and Iran while sending a stark message to Hezbollah.?
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JERUSALEM (AP) ? For more than a decade, Israel has systematically built up its military specifically for a possible strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. It has sent its air force on long-distance training missions, procured American-made “bunker-busting” bombs and bolstered its missile defenses.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s threats to strike Iran, voiced last week during a high-profile visit to the White House, were not empty bluster. Although a unilateral Israeli attack would probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear program, it appears capable, at least for now, of inflicting a serious blow.
“If Israel attacks, the intention is more to send a message of determination, a political message instead of a tactical move,” said Yiftah Shapir, a former Israeli air force officer who is now a military analyst at the INSS think tank in Tel Aviv.
Israel, along with the United States and other Western countries, believes Iran has taken key steps toward developing nuclear weapons. The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency has cited this concern in reports, but notes its inspectors have found no direct evidence that Iran is moving toward an atomic weapon.
Israeli leaders, however, argue that time is quickly running out. They have grown increasingly vocal in their calls for tough concerted international action against Iran while stressing they are prepared to act alone if necessary.
Israeli defense officials believe Iran is capable of producing highly enriched weapons-grade uranium within six months. After that, it would require another year or two to develop a means of delivering a nuclear bomb, they predict.
But Israel believes the window to act will close much sooner than that. Officials say in the coming months Iran will have moved enough of its nuclear facilities underground and out of reach of conventional airpower, and that the world will be powerless to stop it. Defense Minister Ehud Barak calls this the “zone of immunity.”
Defense officials acknowledge that plans to go after Iran have been in the works for years, with the air force expected to take the lead in what would be an extremely complicated operation. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing sensitive military deliberations.
Israel has a total of 300 warplanes, but about 100 front-line planes would participate in the mission, officials suggest. They would include attack aircraft as well as others used to escort, target enemy warplanes and anti-aircraft batteries and provide support like communications and search and rescue.
The most powerful is the squadron of 24 F15i warplanes, American-made aircraft capable of carrying heavy payloads that could include 5,000-pound (2,200 kilogram), laser-guided GBU-28 bombs purchased from the U.S. These “bunker-busting” bombs would be at the heart of any operation.
In addition, Israel has four squadrons, or about 100, F-16i warplanes. These planes are more nimble in the air, capable of attacking ground targets but also ideal for escorting the heavier attacking aircraft. The air force also has developed long-range unmanned drones that can provide intelligence, communications and other support in any mission.
Experts believe that some of the Israeli warplanes, even F16s with upgraded fuel tanks, could not make the round trip without refueling in flight ? depending on the route as well as the weight of their payload. Israel, which has eight tanker planes, can refuel an airplane in flight in a matter of minutes, though it’s unclear where the task would take place since much of the airspace in the region is hostile.
There is precedent: Israeli warplanes destroyed an unfinished Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, and did the same thing to a nascent reactor in Syria in 2007. But an operation in Iran would be far more difficult ? complicated by distance, stronger Iranian defenses and the Iranian strategy of scattering its nuclear installations in underground locations.
The Israeli air force has carried out a series of long-distance training runs that could serve as models for striking Iran. In 2008, 100 jets participated in a drill in Greece. The air force has carried out similar drills more recently with both Greece and Italy, officials say.
Probable targets in Iran, including the Natanz and Fordo enrichment facilities south of Tehran, lie some 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) from Israel.
Shafir, the former air force officer, said planners would need to choose among three likely flight paths, all of which carry grave risks.
The shortest, most direct flight would be to cross over neighboring Jordan and through Iraq.
Neither country has the capability to stop an Israeli warplanes from crossing through its airspace. But this would deeply embarrass them.
Such an operation would raise the likelihood of a diplomatic spat with Jordan, Israel’s closest ally in the Arab world, and potentially Jordan it to Iranian retaliation. Jordanian officials refused to comment on how the government would react if Israel uses its airspace.
A second route would be to fly south and through Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have no relations with Israel, and while they feel deeply threatened by a nuclear Iran, any signs of cooperation with the Jewish state would unleash fierce criticism throughout the Arab world. The Saudis would also be an easy target for an Iranian counter-strike.
The last possibility would be crossing through Turkey, as Israel illicitly did in the 2007 airstrike in Syria. But Turkey is believed to have upgraded its radar systems since then, and Israel’s relations with Turkey, once a close ally, have deteriorated.
A Turkish official said it was “out of the question” for Israel to use Turkish airspace. He said the jets would be “brought down” if Israel attempted to use the airspace without permission. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly on the matter.
Once Israeli planes reach Iran, they would come under fire from Iranian air-defense systems and warplanes. Israeli officials say they take these threats seriously, but believe Israel’s superior firepower and radar-jamming technology would allow them to perform the mission.
Iran’s air attack capabilities depend heavily on domestically modified versions of long-outdated warplanes, including former Soviet MiGs and American F14A Tomcats from the 1970s.
Iran is also believed to possess retooled versions of Russia’s state-of-the-art S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, as well as advanced Chinese radar systems. Russia has held up an official sale of S-300 defenses for five years, citing technical glitches.
Outside experts say Iranian capabilities, particularly homegrown technologies, are limited.
The biggest challenge to Israel may be the limits of its firepower. Iran’s main uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz is believed to be about six meters (25 feet) underground and protected by two concrete walls.
This would stretch the capabilities of Israel’s arsenal of bunker busters and explains why the Israelis would much prefer that the U.S. take the lead in an operation. The U.S. has forces near Iran in the Gulf and possesses bunker busters even more powerful than Israel’s.
Iran has also been shifting its enrichment operations to the far more fortified Fordo site, dug 300 feet (90 meters) into a mountain south of Tehran. Further complicating the task, Israeli officials say Iran uses special Russian-made nets that conceal the facilities and distort the detection of Western spycraft.
Iran has threatened to retaliate and has developed sophisticated Shahab missiles capable of striking the Jewish state. It also could encourage its local proxies, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, to unleash their arsenals of tens of thousands of rockets.
Hezbollah has not said what it would do, while Hamas has signaled it does not want to get dragged into an Israel-Iran war.
Nonetheless, Israel has developed a series of air-defense systems for the various threats. It has begun testing the third generation of its Arrow system, designed to shoot down incoming missiles from more distant origins like Iran. It also has deployed its “Iron Dome” rocket defense system, which has successfully shot down about 90 percent of incoming rockets from Gaza in a new round of fighting in recent days.
Many experts believe Iran would retaliate against American targets in the Gulf, as well as U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia for their perceived support of an Israeli strike.
Any unilateral strike would likely also draw fierce international criticism. That means an Israeli operation would have to be short-lived, perhaps a one-time attack, and not a sustained air campaign.
Scott Johnson, an analyst at the IHF Jane’s military research firm, said that given these limitations, Israel would at best set back, but not neutralize, the Iranian program. Success, he added, would depend on the effectiveness of the bunker busters.
Danny Yatom, a former director of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, said even if Israel cannot destroy Iran’s nuclear program altogether, a serious disruption would be enough.
“This might delay the appearance of the bomb by many years,” he said.
Brian Murphy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey and Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.
JERUSALEM (Reuters) ? Israel accused arch-enemies Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of being behind twin bomb attacks that targeted Israeli embassy staff in India and Georgia on Monday, wounding four people.
Tehran denied involvement in the attacks, which amplified tensions between two countries already at loggerheads over Iran’s nuclear program, and accused Israel of carrying out the attacks itself. Hezbollah made no comment.
In the Indian capital New Delhi, a bomb wrecked a car taking an Israeli embassy official to pick up her children from school, police said. The woman needed surgery to remove shrapnel but her life was not in danger.
Her driver and two passers-by suffered lesser injuries.
Israeli officials said an attempt to bomb an embassy car in the Georgian capital Tbilisi failed, and the device was defused.
Israel had put its foreign missions on high alert ahead of the fourth anniversary this past Sunday of the assassination in Syria of the military mastermind of Hezbollah, Imad Moughniyeh – an attack widely assumed to be the work of Israeli agents.
Israel is believed to be locked in a wider covert war with Iran, whose nuclear program has been beset by apparent sabotage, including the unclaimed killings of several Iranian nuclear scientists, most recently in January.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed both Iran and Hezbollah, accusing them of responsibility for a string of recent attempted attacks on Israeli interests in countries as far apart as Thailand and Azerbaijan.
“Iran and its proxy Hezbollah are behind each of these attacks,” said Netanyahu, who dismisses Iran denials that it is trying to develop a nuclear weapon. “We will continue to take strong and systematic, yet patient, action against the international terrorism that originates in Iran.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast rejected Netanyahu’s accusation, saying it was Israel that had carried out the attacks as part of its psychological warfare against Iran.
“It seems that these suspicious incidents are designed by the Zionist regime and carried out with the aim of harming Iran’s reputation,” the official news agency IRNA quoted Mehmanparast as saying.
Israeli officials have long made veiled threats to retaliate against Lebanon for any Hezbollah attack on their interests abroad, arguing that as the Islamist group sits in government in Beirut, its actions reflect national policy.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters in Washington that the United States had no information yet on who was responsible, adding: “These incidents underscore our ongoing concerns of the targeting of Israeli interests overseas.”
The New Delhi blast took place some 500 meters (yards) from the official residence of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
B.K. Gupta, the New Delhi police commissioner, said a witness had seen a motorcyclist stick a device to the back of the car, which had diplomatic registration plates.
“The eyewitness … says it (was) some kind of magnetic device. As soon as the motorcycle moved away a good distance from the car, the car blew up and it caught fire,” said Gupta.
The Iranian scientist killed in Tehran last month died in a similar such attack by a motorcyclist who attached a device to his car. No one has claimed responsibility for that, although Iran was quick to accuse agents of Israel and its U.S. ally.
Israel named the injured woman as Talya Yehoshua Koren, who worked at the embassy and was married to the defense attache.
“She was able to drag herself from the car and is now at the American hospital, where two Israeli doctors are treating her,” an Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman said.
Thailand said last month its police had arrested a Lebanese man linked to Hezbollah, and that he later led them to a warehouse stocked with bomb-making materials. Also last month, authorities in Azerbaijan arrested two people suspected of plotting to attack Israel’s ambassador and a local rabbi.
In a speech on January 24, Israel’s military chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, accused Hezbollah of trying to carry out proxy attacks while avoiding direct confrontation.
“During this period of time, when our enemies in the north avoid carrying out attacks, fearing a harsh response, we are witnesses to the ongoing attempts by Hezbollah and other hostile entities to execute vicious terror attacks at locations far away from the state of Israel,” Gantz said.
“I suggest that no one test our resolve.”
Israel and Hezbollah fought an inconclusive and costly war across the Lebanese border in 2006.
(Additional reporting by Krittivas Mukherjee, Annie Banerji and Arup Roy Choudhury in New Delhi, Zahra Hosseinian in Tehran, Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Editing by Crispian Balmer, Mark Heinrich, Alastair Macdonald and Kevin Liffey)
RAMALLAH, West Bank ? The Palestinians on Tuesday said they would not give in to American pressure to drop their bid for statehood at the United Nations, taking a tough position ahead of a meeting with a senior U.S. delegation.
Two senior White House envoys, David Hale and Dennis Ross, arrived in the region on Tuesday for talks with Israel and Palestinian officials. The U.S. has been trying to persuade the Palestinians to drop their plan to ask the U.N. this month to approve their independence and instead resume peace talks with Israel.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said there was little the Americans could do to change the Palestinians’ plans.
“We are going to the United Nations, regardless of objections or pressure,” he said. Abbas is expected to meet with Hale on Wednesday. Ross, who is viewed by the Palestinians as pro-Israel, was not scheduled to attend the meeting.
The comments signaled more frustration for President Barack Obama, who has made little progress in nurturing peace talks despite pledges to make Mideast diplomacy a priority.
The Palestinians say they are turning to the U.N. after years of sporadic, and inconclusive, peace talks with Israel.
Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem ? areas claimed by the Palestinians ? in the 1967 Mideast war. Both Israel and the U.S. oppose the U.N. initiative, saying peace can be reached only through negotiations. Israel has called for a resumption of talks without preconditions.
The American team was meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.
Barak’s office said his discussions focused on “the regional situation and strategy issues,” including the Palestinians. He did not elaborate. There was no immediate comment from either Netanyahu’s office or the Americans.
Abbas confirmed this week that he has held secret talks with the Israeli president and defense minister in recent weeks, but was unable to reach any breakthrough.
In a separate matter, an Israeli defense official said Tuesday that the military has temporarily suspended its contentious policy of demolishing illegally built Palestinian homes in the West Bank. The official said the order was issued after determining the policy is not equally enforced against illegally built Jewish settler homes.
Palestinians have bitterly complained that demolitions are arbitrary and lopsided and that it’s difficult for them to get Israeli construction permits.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the order, which was issued in an internal memorandum. He didn’t say how long the order would last.
Also Tuesday, Netanyahu condemned the torching of a mosque in the West Bank earlier in the week, that came a few hours after the Israeli military dismantled structures in an unauthorized West Bank outpost. The name of the outpost, Migron, was spray painted on the mosque, suggesting the act was settler retaliation for the demolitions.
Menachem Froman, a rabbi from the settlement of Tekoa who promotes coexistence between Palestinians and settlers, visited the mosque on Tuesday to reconcile between the two sides.
In Gaza Tuesday, a Palestinian militant was killed by an Israeli missile as he fired rockets at southern Israel, Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Adham Abu Salmia said. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.
Associated Press writer Amy Teibel in Jerusalem contributed to this report.