Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Middle East: tensions mount

A pre-emptive strike by Israel on nuclear facilities in Iran in October appears increasingly likely.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said again that the primary foreign policy goal of his government is to see Israel wiped off the map of the Middle East. "A new Middle East will definitely be formed."

A new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency says that Iran has two new groups of centrifuges installed at its fortified underground facility at Fordow, signalling a doubling of the site's capacity, despite diplomacy and sanctions, since May. DEBKAfile says that by the end of September or early October Iran will have enough 20 per cent-enriched uranium for its first nuclear bomb.

Israel's Security Cabinet had a 10-hour meeting last week to discuss the threat from Iran. Israeli citizens, who have been standing in queues for gas masks for their families, are increasingly fearful that war will soon be upon them.

Ehud Yaari, a respected Israeli analyst, said American officials see an Israeli strike on Iran before US presidential elections in November as almost a foregone conclusion, and are concentrating on their response to the outcome.

The Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot said the US has informed Iran through intermediaries that the US will not back an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear facilities as long as Iran refrains from attacking American interests in the Persian Gulf.

US President Obama would like Israel to believe that the US is serious about military action "when the need arises" - but when the need arises is the crux of the dispute between Israel and the US. "Sparks and lightning " were reported to have been flying at a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador Dan Shapiro. Prime Minister Netanyahu made it clear that the Israeli Government does not trust the Obama administration to stop Iran's nuclear programme in time.

"The world tells Israel, 'Wait, there's still time,'" the Israeli PM said on Tuesday. "And I say 'Wait for what? Wait until when?' Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.

"Now if Iran knows that there is no red line, if Iran knows that there is no deadline, what will it do? Exactly what it's doing. It's continuing, without any interference, towards obtaining nuclear weapons capability and from there, nuclear bombs."

President Obama was proposing to meet Prime Minister Netanyahu on September 27, presumably to ask Israel to hold off, while Israel would ask for backing in dealing with Iran. Now President Obama has refused to meet him. 

Tensions over Iran are said to have caused the most severe rift in US - Israel relations for decades.

Israel is aware of Hezbollah with its thousands of rockets in Lebanon, Hamas with its thousands of rockets in Gaza, and the possibility of attack from Syria - all of them influenced by Iran. Israel does not want to start a war. But neither will Israel sit and wait indefinitely to be bombed into oblivion.

"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Psa 122:6).