Hosting U.S. defense chief, Israel hints at patience on Iran

TEL AVIV Mon Apr 22, 2013 10:31am EDT

1 of 8. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (2nd L) and his Israeli counterpart Moshe Yaalon (3rd L) stand together during an honour guard ceremony at the Kirya base in Tel Aviv April 22, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Watson/Pool

TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Israel suggested on Monday it would be patient before taking any military action against Iran's nuclear program, saying during a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel there was still time for other options.

With Iran's presidential election approaching in June there has been a pause in hawkish rhetoric by Israel, which has long hinted at possible air strikes to deny its arch-foe any means to make an atomic bomb, while efforts by six world powers to find a negotiated solution with Tehran have proved fruitless so far.

"We believe that the military option, which is well discussed, should be the last resort," Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told reporters at a news conference with Hagel.

"And there are other tools to be used and to be exhausted," Yaalon said, listing diplomacy, economic sanctions and "moral support" for domestic opponents of Iran's hardline Islamist leadership.

Iran has denied seeking nuclear weapons capability, saying it is enriching uranium only for domestic energy purposes while calling for the elimination of the Jewish state. Israel is widely believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal.

U.S. President Barack Obama has in the past clashed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over how urgent the need may be to consider military action against Iran. Washington has suggested more time should be given for concerted diplomacy combined with sanctions pressure to produce a peaceful solution.

But with Obama recently installed in his second term, and Netanyahu in his third, the allies have publicly closed ranks. The United States projects more defense aid for Israel after the current disbursements of some $3 billion a year expire in 2017. And Hagel unveiled the planned sale to Israel of missiles, warplane radars, troop transport planes and refueling jets.

"These decisions underscore that the military-to-military cooperation between the U.S. and Israel is stronger than ever, and that defense cooperation will only continue to deepen in the future," Hagel said.

By contrast, the Bush administration in 2008 declined to provide Israel with refueling tankers and missiles that might be used in a strike on Iran.

MILITARY OPTIONS REMAIN ON TABLE

Before taking the helm at the Pentagon, Hagel had stirred ire among pro-Israel Americans for remarks including skepticism about the feasibility and desirability of such military action.

But in Israel, the second foreign country he has visited as defense secretary after Afghanistan, Hagel hewed to Obama's line. "All military options and every option must remain on the table in dealing with Iran," he said.

"I support the president's position on Iran. And it's very simple and I have stated it here ... Our position is Iran will not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon - the prevention of Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Period."

Iranian media reported on Monday that Iran and officials from the United Nations nuclear watchdog would hold a new round of talks on May 21 in Vienna. The International Atomic Energy Agency wants inspectors to restart a long-stalled investigation in Iran's suspected atomic bomb research.

From Israel, Hagel travels to Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The latter two Gulf Arab countries, which are also wary of Iran's nuclear ambitions, stand to win a major U.S. arms sale.

After lengthy disagreement, Israeli and U.S. estimates of when Iran might be able to produce a first nuclear weapon now largely dovetail to a time frame of about a year.

Hagel also said that non-military pressure on Iran has yet to be exhausted. "The sanctions on Iran are as potent and deep and wide a set of international sanctions that we have ever seen on any country. And those will continue to increase," he said.

"Whether it leads to an outcome that we desire remains to be seen ... and as I said, the military option is always an option."

After the news conference, Hagel boarded an Israeli military helicopter for an aerial tour of the Golan Heights frontier - Israeli-occupied territory on the edge of Syria's civil war.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

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Comments (6)
ToshiroMifune wrote:
No problem with North Korea developing nuclear weapons and the ICBM’s to deliver them with though because it’s only threatening to attack the U. S. so it’s not important.

Apr 22, 2013 11:15am EDT  --  Report as abuse
usagadfly wrote:
It is interesting that when the “destruction” of Israel in its current form is mentioned, there are two meanings used which are quite different from one another. One is the well-worn term, the “Jewish State”, while the other is the land and peoples referred to as “Palestine”. Commentators toggle back and forth between these two definitions as is convenient to the assertions they are making.

The Jewish State is a Government which actively discriminates on the basis of religion and ethnicity. It is in effect the embodiment of Judaism as a religion, or purports to be. So that your right to be a citizen or to hold office or to vote is determined by your ethnicity and religion. While this is truly an ugly truth, it is papered over by allowing a small minority of non-Jews to participate in the political system. This enables proponents of the current system to claim that it is not a system of active discrimination.

So when one refers to the “destruction of Israel” the implication is for the destruction of the country, not the current political system. This bit of mischief allows for all sorts of rhetorical distortions and deceptions and should be understood by all intelligent listeners to such debates. Your money and your children’s lives depend on it.

Apr 22, 2013 11:48am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Renbe wrote:
Israeli brouhaha, if it were so easy to attack Iran, Israel would have done so years ago. The only reason behind the Israeli threats is to get more money and more weapons from the USA, and guess what: It’s working like a charm.

Apr 22, 2013 12:37pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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