DECISION TIME ??

 
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Decision time







 

It was exactly a year ago. A small Falcon jet – favored by top Iranian military officers – crashed in northwest Iran near the Turkish border. Among those killed were Brig.-Gen. Ahmad Kazemi, commander of the elite Revolutionary Guard ground forces division, and at least 12 other officers.

Rumors quickly spread that the plane had been sabotaged and that Kazemi had been killed in a devious Israeli plot.

While Iranian official statements blamed bad weather and dilapidated engines for the crash, there was room for speculation that foul play may have had a hand. Kazemi had been responsible for the production and development of Iran’s Shihab ballistic missile series, capable of delivering a nuclear warhead into the heart of Europe, not to mention Israel.

He was also a close confidant of Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Muhammad Najjar, from their days together in the Revolutionary Guard, where Najjar served as the head of the Middle East department, responsible for Israel and Lebanon.

Since last January’s crash, air travel for Iranian military officials has become increasingly dangerous. On November 27, a military transport plane crashed just after take-off from Teheran. More than 40 people were killed including 30 members of the Revolutionary Guard, some of them reported to be close advisers to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A week before, a helicopter crashed into the central town of Najafabad, killing six, including a senior Revolutionary Guard officer.

The combined effect of these crashes, some Iranian analysts claim, has effectively gutted the high command of the Revolutionary Guard. But whatever the truth concerning the cause of these mysterious crashes, they show that numerous stumbling blocks confront Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of reaching Israel.

International pressure – in the form of UN-approved sanctions such as those imposed last month – as well as internal strife and recent technological challenges all serve as obstacles the Islamic Republic has had to face throughout its 20-year effort to obtain nuclear weapons.

Within the Israeli leadership, there is one clear voice – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert – that refuses to come to terms with a nuclear Iran and claims that Teheran must be stopped, even at a heavy price, from obtaining weapons of mass destruction and rocking the balance of power in the Middle East.

Currently nine countries are known to have or are suspected of having nuclear weapons: the US, France, the UK, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel. Adding Iran to the mix will not only constitute an existential threat to Israel, but will also impair its operational independence.

“What if a soldier is kidnapped in Lebanon and we want to go to war?” asks one senior official. “All Iran would need to do is wave its nuke at us and make us reconsider.”

Israel currently has invested most of its intelligence-gathering resources into the Iranian issue. The Mossad holds the “Iran File” and the Foreign Ministry is spearheading diplomatic efforts.

There are additional, top-secret committees, whose members are appointed by the prime minister and include senior officials from the intelligence community and former politicians with a strategic background. These committees, one participant says, meet from time to time and are responsible for amalgamating all of the details gathered by the different security branches and brainstorming on strategy.

At the end of the day, however, as one former IAF commander involved in the successful strike on Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981 points out, it is solely up to the prime minister to decide what course of action Israel will take – military or diplomacy.

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