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8 Mar, 2010 05:35

US delegates travel to Israel amid growing concerns over Iran

Israel is seeing a flurry of American diplomacy. The main question on the table is the impending threat from Iran.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of the CIA and the national Security advisor have all just visited the country to discuss the future of peace talks between Israel and Iran. US Vice-President Joe Biden is jetting into town on Monday.

Reserve Colonel Ephraim Kam, who specializes in national security issues affecting Israel, is convinced that the country will not attack Iran if America objects – but says it would still like to cover all bases.

Israel says all options are on the table – and we are preparing the option in case we should decide to do so,” Kam says. “I don’t think that at the moment any Israeli decision has been made regarding an attack on Iran, yet the Americans are taking this option seriously and have sent here to Israel a series of officials from the American administration telling Israel ‘Don’t surprise us, this is not the right time to attack.”

The last time Israel attacked a potential nuclear country the strike on Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981. The country’s only air force museum located in the desert town of Be’ersheva proudly displays the F15 fighter jet that was part of that mission. The jet provided cover for the plane that dropped the bombs.

Back then Israel did not think to ask the Americans for permission, and the fallout – limited US sanctions – was minimal. Now, however, almost thirty years on, many argue that the situation is different.

I think that Israel would need some kind of consent from the United States. Even for the simple matter of sending aircraft over Iraq – which is in a way US-controlled airspace,” says Ephraim Asculai, scientist at the Israel Atomic Energy Commission. “If Israel were to strike Iran, it would cause regional havoc. Iran would retaliate and Hezbollah and Syria and Hamas would also retaliate. And it would be a major unsettling occurrence in this not very quiet region.”

But even if Israel attacked Iran without American involvement, Asculai thinks it is unlikely that the move would be successful. This has been a pretty sobering possibility for most Israelis, who still do not completely trust the Obama administration.

I think also that the Israelis were a little somewhat slighted that Presdient Obama gave a major policy address in Cairo, reaching out to the Arab world, speaking a few words of Arabic, and trying to repair the relationship between the United States and the Arab world and people who live in those countries,” says political analyst Barak Mitchel. “And yet he made no similar gesture, not even close, to the Israeli people. He never came to Israel, although he was close by. He never spoke directly to the Israeli people.”

This is perhaps why Biden’s trip is a clever policy move. The Vice President has long been considered a friend of Israel, and many Israeli leaders have good personal relationships with him, especially Prime Minister Binjamin Netanyahu.

Still, however, the country is hesitant to take any chances and has begun distributing gas masks to its seven million citizens. Post offices throughout the country have been handing out thousands of new gas masks to provide protection against a possible chemical attack, which some Israelis believe could come from Syria or Iran.

The Israeli military, however, insists it is a routine procedure and is not in response to a specific threat.

In case of some home front emergencies we know what our reaction should be and we know how to protect the Israeli population,” Avital Leibowitz, spokesperson for the Israeli army said. “Let me remind you that earlier we received gas masks from other countries, but now, if there is an emergency, we know how to give a fitting reply.”

No Israeli Prime Minister wants to go down in history as the one who decided to attack Iran.
As for Obama, if Teheran were to go nuclear on his watch, it would be a colossal failure of his administration.