Low-graphic news index |
Saturday, August 18, 2012 - Page updated at 09:00 p.m.
In Israel, speculation rises of pending attack on Iran's nuclear facilities
By Anne Gearan
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Preparations in Israel for a possible war are focusing new attention on whether Israel will attack Iran's nuclear facilities and force an unwelcome debate in the thick of a U.S. presidential campaign about the U.S. role in stopping an Iranian bomb.
Public statements and anonymous quotes to Israeli media in the past week have raised speculation an Israeli attack could come before the U.S. presidential election in November.
The government appears to be readying the country for war by issuing gas masks, building underground bomb shelters and testing an early-warning system for missiles. The departing Israeli homefront defense minister said he had worked to ensure the nation was ready for a monthlong war "on multiple fronts."
The atmosphere grew more heated Friday with comments from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who called Israel's existence an "insult to all humanity."
He was addressing worshippers at Tehran University after nationwide pro-Palestinian rallies, an annual event marking Quds Day on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan.
Israel considers Iran a threat because of its nuclear and missile programs, support for radical anti-Israel groups on its borders and repeated references by Iranian leaders to Israel's destruction.
Iran has denied it is seeking to build nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear program is peaceful and aimed at producing electricity and radioisotopes used to treat cancer patients.
Analysts in the United States and Israel are divided on whether the escalating war of words foreshadows an imminent attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
Some say Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is bluffing in hopes of forcing President Obama to issue an ultimatum to Iran that America would do the job itself later. Although Obama has said the United States will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, analysts suggest Netanyahu is looking for a deadline on abandoning talks and resorting to military action.
Others argue the Israeli leader appears to be laying the case for unilateral Israeli action over the objections of the U.S. and the majority of Israeli public opinion. This view holds that Netanyahu thinks he cannot rely on Obama for help now or later, and that he cannot afford to wait for a friendlier Romney administration to back him up or do the bombing itself.
A new war in the Middle East would be deeply unpopular among U.S. voters. Even talk of an imminent conflict with Iran could increase gas prices and unsettle the financial markets, possibly worsening the stagnant economy weeks before the November election.
The Obama administration has tried to say as little as possible about the prospect of an Israeli strike or what it might do if talks over Iran's disputed nuclear program — now at an impasse — completely fall apart.
Even if the timing is hazy, it's clear some in the Israeli government do not think they can delay.
"We can't wait to find out one morning that we relied on the Americans but were fooled because the Americans didn't act in the end," an unnamed Israeli official told the newspaper Haaretz last week. The official is widely believed to be Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.
Copyright © The Seattle Times Company