Iran Next Target, Warns Israeli Diplomat

A SENIOR Israeli diplomat has warned that Israel is ready to launch a military offensive against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons.

In an interview with The Age, Dan Gillerman, who was Israel’s permanent representative at the United Nations from 2003 until last September, said time for diplomatic efforts to stop Iran acquiring a nuclear capability might have already expired.

“The world cannot afford to live with a nuclear Iran,” Mr Gillerman said. “I hope diplomacy will work, but I’m not sure we have the time for diplomacy to work.

“Israel has made it very clear that it will not live with a nuclear Iran and I believe that Israel has the ability and the capacity to make sure it will not happen.”

Mr Gillerman, who will visit Australia later this month, said two clocks were running with respect to Iran: “There is the technological clock of Iran and there is the diplomatic clock, and I think the Iranian clock is running much faster.”

Detailed military plans to bomb Iran’s nuclear enrichment plant have long been on the table of Israeli military commanders. Outgoing Defence Minister Ehud Barak is believed to have requested US support for a military strike last May, but the plans were aborted after then-president George Bush declined to endorse them.

Last June, Israel carried out military exercises over the Mediterranean involving more than 100 F-16 and F-15 fighters in what was interpreted as a rehearsal for an attack on Iran’s nuclear plants. At the time, The New York Times reported that as well as sending a warning to Tehran, the exercise was intended as a message to the US that Israel was prepared to act militarily if diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from producing bomb-grade uranium faltered.

On Tuesday, the man likely to lead Israel’s next government, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, made a reference to Iran in his victory speech. He said: “Israel is facing an Iranian threat, from afar and from near. The nuclear threat and the terror threat … it will be up to us to deal with this, and we will be able to deal with these two challenges successfully.”

Israel has carried out two strikes on suspected nuclear sites over the past 30 years. In 1981, its jets bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak, and in September 2007, Israeli aircraft bombed a structure in Syria that was alleged to have housed a nuclear reactor.

Any new attack against Iran would be much more complicated, with the country’s uranium enrichment plants spread across many sites. Iran’s comparatively sophisticated military and its distance from Israel would present further complications for military planners and risk setting off a full-scale war.

Mr Gillerman said the world could not afford to underestimate the seriousness of the Iranian threat. “We have a very extreme, radical fundamentalist regime there with a president (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) who denies the Holocaust while preparing the next one, and has vowed to wipe Israel off the face of the map. My advice to the rest of the world is to listen to him very carefully and take him at face value.”