Analysis: Iran, Israel exchange threats
By MODHER AMIN
TEHRAN, Aug. 19 (UPI) -- The dispute between Iran and Israel has escalated in recent weeks, with the officials in Tehran warning of striking back strongly should Israel launch an attack against Iranian nuclear facilities.
In the latest threat, a commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Mohammad-Baqer Zolqadr, warned Israel that it would "permanently forget about (its) Dimona nuclear center, if Israel fires one missile at Bushehr atomic power plant." He talked of the "terrifying consequences" of such a move, which "Israel should be held responsible for."
"Given the internal crises in the Zionist regime and its military, security and geographical vulnerability, Israel is not capable of attacking Iran and its treats are only propaganda," Zolqadr said, adding, the threats are aimed at depriving Iran of its "indisputable right" to achieve nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
The Revolutionary Guards, or Sepah-e Pasdaran, act in parallel with the regular armed forces, and are well equipped with their navy and air forces as well as ground troops.
Dimona, in the Negev desert, is allegedly where Israel produces weapons-grade plutonium for its estimated 200 nuclear warheads.
Iran's controversial nuclear plan, with the construction of a reactor at the southern port city of Bushehr, has sparked serious debate within international community, with Israel and the United States seeing it as a cover for nuclear weapons development.
Iran claims it does not have a secret nuclear program, and is only seeking to fulfill its growing demand for power. It says it intends to produce some 7,000 megawatts of nuclear-generated electricity by the year 2020.
Israel, however, has never confirmed nor denied possessing a nuclear arsenal.
"Of course, we have to develop our defensive capacities -- passive, active, reactive," Israeli Labor member of parliament and a former deputy defense minister, Ephraim Sneh, was quoted as having said recently.
Commenting on a possible attack by his country against Iranian nuclear targets, Sneh denied there were any such plans "on the agenda." He stressed, however, that "We have to strengthen our defense shields against possible Iranian attack."
Analysts say, for years, Saddam Hussein's Iraq was seen as the main threat to the Jewish state, but that place may have now been taken by Iraq's neighbor.
Warning that Iran may become a nuclear power within the next three or four years, Israel wants the world to act. It says, at the same time, that if diplomacy failed, it would act alone.
"Israel has many, many capabilities," Danny Yatom, a former head of Mossad, Israel's international intelligence agency, was quoted as having said.
"And in the past, Israel has carried out long-range military operations, like when we bombed the nuclear facility of Iraq (at Osirak in 1981). And since then one can imagine that we've improved our capabilities."
But, Iranian-born Shaul Mofaz, who is now Israel's defense minister, does not talk of any preemptive attack on Iran. When asked about a possible Iranian attack, he answered: "We will know how to defend ourselves."
On Sunday, a few days after the Islamic republic announced it had conducted "a successful test" of an upgraded version of its conventional medium-range Shahab-3 missile, the Revolutionary Guards chief, Yadollah Javani, warned that all Israeli military and nuclear sites were within range.
"The entire Zionist territory, including its nuclear establishments and atomic munitions are now within the range of Iran's advanced missiles," he said, quoted by the Iranian press.
The Shahab, meaning "meteor" in Persian, is thought to have a range of 810 miles, with the potential to strike anywhere in Israel.
The Iranian Defense Minister, Ali Shamkhani, also confirmed the test had been conducted, but denied that Iran was building a new, more advanced Shahab-4 missile.
"The Israelis are trying hard to improve the capacity of their missiles, and we are also trying to improve the Shahab-3," he said.
On July 28, Israel tested its Arrow II missile, making it clear the improved anti-missile system was aimed squarely at fending off any attack by arch-foe Iran. But, Iran maintains its missile program should work as a deterrent only.
Meanwhile, in an interview with the Qatari-based al-Jazeera satellite television channel, Shamkhani talked of the possibility of an American or Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear installations, saying, any strike will be considered "an attack on Iran as a whole, and we will retaliate with all our strength."
Shamkhani also said it was not possible "practically" to destroy Iran's nuclear programs as they were the outcome of national skills "which cannot be eliminated by military means."
He also warned that the Islamic republic would consider itself no longer bound by its commitments to the International Atomic Energy Agency in the event of an attack.
"The execution of such threats would mean that our cooperation with the IAEA led to feeding information about our nuclear facilities to the attacking side, which means that we would no longer be bound by any of our obligations," he said.
The U.N. watchdog, with Iran's dossier on its agenda, is due to meet in mid-September. The last of a group of its inspectors left the country last week.
Diplomats in Vienna were quoted Tuesday as having said that the agency's 35-member board of directors would not mention in their report whether Iran's nuclear activities are of a military nature, nor will they recommend bringing the case before the U.N. Security Council.
The United States, however, insists that Iran's nuclear program must be referred to the council for possible sanctions.
"We ... believe that the Iranian nuclear weapons program must be taken up by the U.N. Security Council," said John Bolton, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, at a forum on U.S. policy toward Iran at the Hudson Institute on Tuesday.
Calling for the international community to isolate Iran over the program, Bolton further said: "We cannot let Iran, a leading sponsor of international terrorism, acquire nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them to Europe, most of central Asia and the Middle East, or beyond."
"Without serious, concerted immediate intervention by the international community, Iran will be on the road to doing so," Bolten added.
Iran, however, seems to be determined to proceed with its nuclear program. The country's Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told Iranian ambassadors at a meeting in Tehran Sunday, "The Islamic republic will continue on the reasonable path which will result in the peaceful use of nuclear energy without concerning itself about all this fuss and bother."
Khamenei stressed the need for Iran to convince the IAEA of its intentions as the U.N. body has been investigating Iran's nuclear program for more than a year.
Iran's President Mohammad Khatami last week said his country "will not seek permission from anyone" to go on with what he called "a civilian nuclear program."
"If the international community wants to deprive us of our primordial right, we will not give up our national right and our country should be prepared to pay the price," he said in an apparent reference to threats of possible U.N. sanctions.
Late July, Iran announced it had resumed making parts for advanced centrifuge designs, known as P2, which are used for enriching uranium. The move was considered a blow to European efforts to limit the scope of Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Iran, under an agreement reached last year with Britain, France and Germany, agreed to allow tougher inspections, file a comprehensive declarations of its nuclear activities, and suspend uranium enrichment. Iran said at the time the suspension was only "temporary" aimed at "building confidence" with the IAEA.
"When we agreed to suspend (uranium enrichment), that did not mean we were renouncing it," Khatami said, adding, "We have not enriched, and if we do, that will be purely experimental, to test our capabilities."