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Israel Pushes Harder Line On Iran Nuclear Ambitions

Iran announced Monday that it tested missiles with a range of 800 to 1,200 miles, putting Israeli cities and U.S. military bases in the region within striking distance. The reported tests of the Shahab-3 and Sajjil missiles came just days after the disclosure of another Iranian uranium-enrichment plant.

The developments did not come as a shock to Israel. Officials in Israel have long argued that Iran's leaders are pursuing nuclear weapons in spite of their insistence that they merely want nuclear power plants.

Israel supports new international sanctions against Iran, but military options may need to be considered, Israeli officials say.

Diplomats from the United States, Russia, China, Britain, Germany and France are scheduled to meet with Iranian officials in Geneva on Thursday to discuss a host of global issues. The talks are viewed in the West as an opportunity to confront Iran about its nuclear program.

Since the revelation last week of a new Iranian nuclear facility, Israeli officials have been pushing reluctant Western powers to take stronger action against Iran. Israel's hawkish foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, told Israel Radio that there is no longer any doubt that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

"I spoke this weekend with experts from the East and West. No one has any doubt, according to the technical data that was published, [that] it's a military plant. The disagreement has been done away with," Lieberman said.

Iranian officials say that is not the case and have offered to let international inspectors view the facility.

But Israeli military analysts say that even if world powers punish Iran with sanctions, it will be merely another step along a road that they see ending with military action.

Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, says he hopes the latest revelations help shift the debate in Europe and America toward what he calls the "unfortunately dirty business" of attacking Iran's nuclear infrastructure. But Inbar recognizes that while the hawks may be ascendant in Israel, the same is not true in the West.

"In Western Europe, they have a strategic culture which views military action as something anachronistic, a thing of the past," Inbar says. "Maybe [the] Obama administration has changed somewhat its tone, but I must say that in the Middle East, Obama is still viewed as very weak — very good at words but not very good at deeds — and I don't think that another Obama speech will impress very much the Iranian elite."

Some analysts say Israel on its own doesn't have the capacity to carry out a sustained military campaign against Iran's facilities. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said over the weekend that military action would do no more than "buy some time" before Iran acquires nuclear weapons.

In the Sunni Arab states of the Persian Gulf, a military strike is seen as a potential disaster for the region. Arab analysts say beyond the obvious threat of Iranian missiles falling around the Middle East, Tehran would likely use its proxy militias, Hezbollah and Hamas, to try and sow chaos in the region. Analysts warn that terrorist strikes could even reach Europe or the U.S.

But in Israel, there is far less angst over Iran's ability to retaliate against a military strike. Inbar, for one, can calmly weigh the loss of innocent civilian life against the value of preventing a nuclear Iran.

"Even a [Sept. 11] is something that America recuperated [from] within a few months. The attacks on London, on Madrid, were things which those two countries were able to absorb relatively easily, despite the tragedy in the loss of lives. Israel obviously has been subject to terrorism for so many years, and we have learned to live with it. So terrorism is something that should not deter the West from attacking Iranian nuclear sites," he says.

Israel is not the only state taking a hard line on the issue.

In Tehran on Monday, Iran's defense minister, Ahmad Vahidi, told state television that an Israeli attack would "expedite the Zionist regime's last breath."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Peter Kenyon
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.