9 de enero de 2007

Israel Set To Bust Iran's Bunkers

Axis Of Evil: Israel is denying published reports that it will soon strike Iran with nukes. But contingency plans no doubt exist. And we may have some contingency plans of our own.

Israel's Foreign Ministry has denied reports in the Sunday edition of the London Times that Tel Aviv has drafted plans to take out three Iranian nuclear facilities using bunker-buster bombs armed with mininukes with the strength of 1/15th of the bombs used in 1945 against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Then again, Israel, until recently, maintained the public fiction that it had no nukes at all.

And statements by Israeli officials have indicated that Israel is quite willing to put an end to, or at least derail indefinitely, Iran's nuclear program -- just as it did Iraq's in 1981 when it bombed the French-built Osirak nuclear reactor outside Baghdad.

Before his incapacitating stroke, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, according to the Times, ordered Israel's armed forces to be ready to take out Iran's uranium enrichment sites.

In September 2004, Israel contracted to buy 500 one-ton BLU-109 bunker-buster bombs from the U.S. capable of penetrating 30 feet of earth or concrete to hit Iranian underground facilities such as those at Natanz.

According to the Times report, two Israeli air force squadrons are in training for a mission to strike three key Iranian facilities, the first being Natanz, where thousands of centrifuges are being installed. The squadrons have been making round-trip flights to Gibraltar, practicing the 2,000-mile round-trip flight to Iranian targets.

Also on the target list is a uranium conversion facility near Isfahan. Stored in tunnels there, according to a recent statement by an Iranian vice president, are 250 tons of UF-6 gas, used in the enrichment process.

A third target would be a heavy-water reactor at Arak that may soon be producing weapons-grade plutonium.

Over a year ago, Israel's military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, told foreign journalists in Tel Aviv he believed diplomacy was at a dead end: "The fact that the Iranians are successful time after time in getting away from international pressure . . . encourages them to continue their nuclear project."

Washington may be hedging its bets as well. It may not be an accident that a naval aviator, Adm. William Fallon, who commanded a carrier air wing during Desert Storm, has been chosen to replace Gen. John Abizaid as the head of Central Command. It would be the U.S. Navy that would carry out the mission of keeping Iran from closing the Strait of Hormuz or striking at oil facilities in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

On Dec. 11, the Eisenhower Strike Group -- consisting of the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower , three escort ships and an attack submarine -- entered the Persian Gulf. Reuters reported this month that officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the USS John C. Stennis battle group, originally scheduled for a Pacific deployment, would be joining the Eisenhower in the Gulf instead.

Last month, Ephraim Sneh, deputy Israeli defense minister, said: "The time is approaching when Israel and the international community will have to decide whether to take military action against Iran."

Perhaps the West can succeed with meaningful sanctions that undermine Iran's less-than-stellar economy. Or maybe we can exploit the political weakness of Iran's government, shown by the recent rebuke of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in local elections, by working to aid opposition groups.

But the clock is ticking. Israel has once before taken action to disable a foe's nuclear program. And when Israelis say "never again," they mean it, even if that means using their military in the interest of self-preservation.

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