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Still no certainty on how, or if, Israel would strike Iran

By Sheera Frenkel, McClatchy Newspapers –

JERUSALEM — On a drawing pad in his office, Alon, a senior Israeli military intelligence officer, sketches out the possible scenarios facing Israel and Iran.

Alon has been following the Iranian nuclear weapons program for more than 20 years. He has access to Israeli’s best intelligence on Iran’s progress toward building a nuclear bomb and to the thinking on Israel’s options for stopping it.

“Maybe once a week someone calls me wanting to know the possibilities. How would we launch a military strike on Iran? What type of aircrafts would we use? What kind of bombs? Would we alert our allies in advance? Would it work?” he said. “Lately it has been more than once a week.”

Alon, who could not be quoted by his real name and full rank because of the sensitivity surrounding the Iranian nuclear issue, said such questions right now are futile.

“I see a lot of speculation in the press. People claiming to know what flight routes Israeli aircraft would take and who would be involved,” he said. “The truth is that no one knows anything yet because no decisions have been made.”

Rather than a detailed military plan, Alon’s drawing pad contained a series of flow charts on possible diplomatic and political initiatives that could be carried out as alternatives to a direct military confrontation with Iran.

Discussion of whether Israel — and possibly its allies — will launch a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities has reached a fever pitch in recent weeks. Years of Israeli officials’ promising that “all options are on the table” have culminated in a widespread internationally held belief that Israel will, if need be, launch a military strike against Iran.

But some analysts say the lack of certainty over what Israel will do is Israel’s greatest advantage — convincing the world that it will go after Iran unless the rest of the international community steps in and stops it. Others say Israel is serious in its threats and already has drawn up a series of military plans to attack Iran once the order is given.

“No one will know which it is until we wake up one day and Israeli planes are circling back from Iran,” an Israeli politician on the security cabinet told McClatchy Newspapers, asking not to be named because Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu recently ordered members of his government to remain mum on the issue of Iran. “Or we wait another few years and the whole issue falls off the table as Iran consumes itself with political and financial woes. Maybe Israel also doesn’t know which one it is yet.”

Israeli military officials who agreed to discuss, on a “hypothetical basis,” the various scenarios for a military strike all agreed that the attack would be “quick and fierce.”

The Israeli air force’s advanced F-15 and F-16 warplanes have the range to strike at western Iran and farther inland with air-to-air refueling — a maneuver they have practiced over Turkish and Greek airspace in recent years. While various flight routes have been examined by the Israelis, including paths over Turkey and Iraq, Israel would likely prefer to fly over Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

“It’s the type of campaign that would be most successful if it were carried out before Iran moved all of their facilities underground, where the technicalities involved in wiping them out are much, much more complex,” said one officer, who asked not to be identified by name because of the sensitivity of his job. He cited reports that Iran is currently believed to be moving much of its uranium enrichment facilities to a bunker built within the mountains of Fordo, a site just outside the holy city of Qom.

Other military experts predict that the U.S. and other Western allies would lend their military might to an attack on Iran.

“In the end, Israel is the most nervous about doing this on its own. I would say, in fact, that it is impossible Israel will act without the support of the U.S.,” said one official in the foreign minister’s office.

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