Iran and Israel play cat and mouse
By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH - Iran and Israel appear to be spoiling for a fight, going by recent
belligerent statements emanating from several regional capitals.
Military movement on the ground is also lending credence to the idea that the
mutual loathing and major ideological differences between the two countries
could lead to vortex of violence capable of sucking the entire region into a
"Diplomacy and sanctions are not going to work with Iran. Iranian President
Mahmud Ahmadinejad is a messianic ideologue. He is a follower of the extremist
Shi'ite cleric Mesach Yazdi, who even the late Ayatollah [Ruhollah] Khomeini
rejected as too extreme," says senior policy advisor Dan Diker from the
for Public Affairs.
"Iran has been threatening Israel with destruction for a long time and this
language needs to be taken seriously," Diker told Inter Press Service.
"Furthermore, the International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed recently
what Israel has been saying for 15 years and that is the Iranian regime is
hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons," Diker added.
The Israeli media have reported that Syria, considered an Iranian proxy, has
been transferring advanced weapons, of the type which it dared not to hand over
before, to the Shi'ite resistance organization Hezbollah in Lebanon.
A senior researcher for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) told the Israeli
Knesset, or parliament, that Syria had crossed a red line.
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a conservative and pro-Israeli
think-tank, reported, "Syria may have delivered to Hezbollah Russian-made
shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles - the Igla-S [SA-24 by its North Atlantic
Treaty Organization code] which could pose a threat to the Israeli Air Force's
[IAF's] F-16 fighters."
The IDF has further warned that since the second Israel-Lebanon war in 2006
Hezbollah has engaged in extensive activity, focusing on a military build-up in
the south of Lebanon.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak stated recently that the size of
Hezbollah's missile and rocket arsenal stood at approximately 45,000 - much
higher than previous assessments.
A further development that has analysts scratching their collective heads is
Tehran moving its entire stockpile of low-enriched uranium above ground level.
Any attack hitherto would have been dependent on the use of bunker-busting
bombs to reach Iran's underground nuclear complex.
Is this a move aimed at provoking an Israeli attack and challenging just how
serious Israel is?
Iran argues that the enriched uranium will be used enhancing the capability of
a small reactor in Tehran that is used to produce isotopes for medical
equipment. Other experts claim Iran had run out of suitable storage containers
for its enriched uranium, so it had to move almost all of it.
For several years Israel, too, has been upping the ante and the rhetoric by
drip-feeding continuous statements to the media warning of the danger Iran
allegedly poses and insinuating a possible preemptive strike on the country.
This rhetoric has come in conjunction with extensive diplomatic pressure for
severe sanctions against Iran as well as dummy-run preemptive military
exercises and home drills in the case of an attack.
Israel also has a history of actual military strikes on its neighbors. In 1981
the IAF bombed Iraq's Osirak nuclear facility. In 2007 the IAF carried out a
preemptive strike on an alleged Syrian nuclear site.
In addition to military movement, heated rhetoric emanating from Israel and its
enemies in Iran, Syria and Lebanon are adding fuel to the fire.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last Tuesday compared Iran's nuclear
development to "a runaway train and the international community a car on the
brink of collapsing".
The Iranian leadership has likewise warned of Israeli aggression. Last week
Ahmadinejad opined that Israel was planning to attack Syria and Lebanon and
vowed that Iran would stand by them.
Furthermore, senior Iranian, Syrian and Hezbollah officials have all recently
commented extensively on the likelihood of a war with Israel.
This scenario was discussed extensively several weeks ago when Ahmadinejad met
with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Assad also met with leaders
from Hamas and Hezbollah. Hamas has acknowledged receiving military and
financial support from Iran.
Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported that US National Security Adviser James Jones
argued that Iran, "may try to divert international public opinion from the
[Barack] Obama administration's initiative to step up sanctions against it
through an attack on Israel via Hezbollah or Hamas".
The US, aware of the growing tension on Israel's northern borders, has urged
both Israel and Syria to avoid an escalation in the region.
US Under Secretary of State William Burns paid an unsuccessful visit to
Damascus recently when he met with Assad and urged him to stop the weapons flow
to Hezbollah. Assad denied that Syria was behind the weapons shipment.
Ha'aretz journalist and analyst Aluf Benn believes that both Ahmadinejad and
Netanyahu are playing a game of brinkmanship and pondered what will happen if
diplomacy and sanctions against Iran do not work.
Will Israel carry through with an attack on Iran or will it be forced to back
down and admit that the Iranian threat has been exaggerated? asked Benn, who
argues that both leaderships too were counting on only one of them surviving
any future confrontation.
Diker refused to be drawn into a debate on a possible pre-emptive Israeli
strike on Iran.
"However, many Arab officials who are also worried about Iran's desire for
regional hegemony have told me that the only way to deal with the Islamic
theocracy is with militarily action," Diker told IPS.