HERZLIYA, Israel (Reuters) - Israel is primed for a war on Iran, a deputy to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday, in a rare break with his government’s reticence as world powers try to talk Tehran into curbing its nuclear plans.
By spearheading assaults on guerrillas in neighboring Lebanon and Palestinian territories, the Israeli air force had gained the techniques necessary for any future strikes on Iranian sites, Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said.
“There is no doubt that the technological capabilities, which improved in recent years, have improved range and aerial refueling capabilities, and have brought about a massive improvement in the accuracy of ordnance and intelligence,” he told a conference of military officers and experts.
“This capability can be used for a war on terror in Gaza, for a war in the face of rockets from Lebanon, for war on the conventional Syrian army, and also for war on a peripheral state like Iran,” said Yaalon, a former armed forces chief.
Israel, which is assumed to have the Middle East’s only atomic arsenal, bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 and launched a similar sortie in Syria in 2007.
But its veiled threats against foe Iran have been questioned by some independent analysts who see the potential targets as too distant, dispersed, numerous and well-defended for Israeli warplanes to take on alone.
Israel’s leaders rarely use the term “war” while publicly discussing how to deal with Iran, in whose often secretive uranium enrichment, long-range missile projects and hostile rhetoric the Jewish state sees a mortal threat.
Officially endorsing efforts by U.N. Security Council powers to step up sanctions against Tehran, which denies having hostile designs, Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials usually speak obliquely of a need to “keep all options on the table.”
Two other senior Israeli officials said U.S.-led diplomatic pressure should be given a chance. But they voiced misgivings.
“I believe that, by the middle of June, there will be international sanctions that will be watered down, with very low chances of being effective,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a closed-door parliamentary committee, according to a spokesman.
“With that said, there is nevertheless importance to such sanctions, because the delay has only served Iran,” he said, adding: “It is very possible that there will be other, more effective sanctions by a specific set of European countries.”
Dan Meridor -- another deputy prime minister who, like Yaalon and Barak, belongs to Netanyahu’s inner council -- sought to play down Israel’s particular interest in having Iran reined in, calling it a global challenge.
“If in the end of the day, Iran does get nuclear, in spite of what America says and wants, this will have grave implications for world order, the balance of power and the rules of the game,” Meridor told foreign journalists in Jerusalem.
In his address to the Fisher Institute for Air & Space Strategic Studies, Yaalon said Israel was in a proxy war with Iran due to its sponsorship of Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas and the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas.
“There is no doubt, looking at the overall situation, that we are already in a military confrontation with Iran,” he said. “Iran is the main motivator of those attacking us.”
Editing by Angus MacSwan
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