Talk about Iran military option could backfire, IAF source warns

By Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz Correspondent, Haaretz Service and Reuters

A former commander of the Israel Air Force, Major General (Res.) Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, warned Friday that speaking publicly about Israel's capacity to orchestrate a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities could make it easier for other countries to stop pressuring Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions.

He was referring to comments made the day before by former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon, who said at a seminar in Washington that Israel definitely has a military option to counter the Iranian nuclear threat, and that this fact must be taken into consideration.

"If we emphasize too much, express ourselves too much, it frees the international community [of responsibility]," Ben-Eliyahu told Israel Radio. "Our major achievement, from a military perspective and from a political perspective, is that an international coalition has been created that understands and comprehends that Iran's nuclear development must be stopped."

Ya'alon, speaking at a seminar on the Iranian nuclear program at the Hudson Institute, said Thursday that a strike on Iran could delay its nuclear program by several years. The intervening years until Tehran got its program back on track could see a regime change in Iran, Ya'alon said.

He said that such a strike would be difficult to carry out from a military perspective as Iran's nuclear facilities are spread out, but he believed that was nonetheless feasible.

Ya'alon said that striking Iran would require more than one attack, as a single assault would not be sufficient, but that Israel could launch an attack on Iran in several different ways, not just from the air.

But Ya'alon also warned that Iran would clearly hit back hard in the event of such an attack, and cited Tehran's long-range Shihab missiles, Katyusha rockets that Hezbollah has in its possession, and Qassam rockets that Palestinian militants habitually fire into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip. He added that a rise in oil prices could be further fallout from such an assault.

The former military chief said, however, that Israel's Arrow anti-ballistic missile system could deal with any Shihab and Scud missiles fired from Iran.

A source in Jerusalem said on Thursday he was bewildered by Ya'alon's remarks. The source added that the United States also has options against Iran that it does not talk about, Israel Radio reported.

In recent months, IDF officers - both past and present - have visited Washington to offer their support for a military strike should the diplomatic channels fail to bring Iran to heel.

Ya'alon also reportedly estimated that Iran would have the knowledge to build a nuclear bomb within six to 18 months, and would actually have the bomb within three to five years.

Iran: Anyone who attacks us will suffer
Meanwhile, Iran vowed Thursday not to compromise in its nuclear dispute with the West, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tehran would not be bullied.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Iran was probably the No. 1 challenge for Washington and would be a major threat to U.S. Middle East interests if it acquired atomic bombs. Iran says its nuclear program is only for civilian use.

Russia, anxious to avert any move to impose United Nations sanctions on Iran, urged Tehran to cooperate with UN nuclear inspectors.

Speaking a day after it became clear the UN Security Council would take up the Iran standoff, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - ultimate decision-maker in the Islamic Republic - urged officials not to give in to Western pressure.

"If the Iranian nation and government step back on nuclear energy today, the story will not end there and the Americans will make another pretext," Khamenei told senior clerics.

But he also called for "wisdom and expediency" in handling the issue, a possible nod to faint internal criticism in Iran that Ahmadinejad and other senior officials have antagonized the West with needlessly inflammatory statements.

"This nation... will not allow others to treat it with a bullying attitude, even if [they] are international bullies," Ahmadinejad said in a speech in western Iran on Thursday.

"They know they are not capable of inflicting the slightest blow on the Iranian nation because they need the Iranian nation. They will suffer more and they are vulnerable," he said.

Rice said Tehran's vision of the Middle East was totally opposed to Washington's, reiterating concerns that Iran was backing anti-Israel militants and meddling in neighboring Iraq.

She told a congressional hearing in Washington that the threat from Iran could grow exponentially.

"If you can take that and multiply it by several hundred, you can imagine Iran with a nuclear weapon and the threat they would then pose to that region," said Rice.

"We may face no greater challenge from a single country."

Officials from the UN Security Council's five permanent members - the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia - met Wednesday to discuss strategy when the Council takes up a UN dossier on Iran early next week.

Most diplomats expect the 15-nation council, which can impose sanctions, to issue a statement first urging Iran to comply with resolutions by the International Atomic Energy Agency's board that it halt all uranium enrichment activities.

The UN nuclear watchdog's board this week forwarded a report on Iran to the council for possible action.

"We call on Iran to examine the results of the [IAEA] board meeting in the most serious way possible and ensure full cooperation with the IAEA," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its Web site.

A leading Iranian security official warned on Wednesday that Iran could inflict "harm and pain" to match whatever punishment Washington persuaded the Security Council to mete out to Iran.

A senior British official described this as a veiled threat of violence. "It's a rhetorical threat at this stage but because Iran has a record of using violence in support of its foreign policy objectives we have to take it seriously," he said.