Israeli Military Sends Message to Iran, World

A major military exercise by Israel in the Mediterranean is believed to be a dry-run for a possible attack on Iran's nuclear sites. Amir Oren, chief national security correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, offers his take on the maneuvers and their overall message to the world.

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GUY RAZ, host:

Israel apparently launched a major military exercise over the Mediterranean earlier this month that included more than 100 war planes. The story was first reported in the New York Times this week. U.S. officials believe the exercise was a dry run for a possible attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. But more immediately, perhaps, a message to the world and for internal Israeli political purposes.

Joining us now is Amir Oren. He is the chief national security correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. Mr. Oren, what's the Israeli government saying about these maneuvers?

Mr. AMIR OREN (Chief National Security Correspondent, Ha'aretz): Well, the Israeli government is in the habit of neither confirming nor denying stories like these ones. But we know from the past that the Israeli Air Force is regularly exercising long-range missions. So, this does sound plausible but one can hardly add more than that speaking from Israel.

RAZ: Mr. Oren, here in the United States polls show that most Americans would oppose military action against Iran. If I understand you correctly, in Israel there is a broader consensus and support for a possible attack on Iran?

Mr. OREN: Israelis are not polled regarding it but if one looks across the board on both sides of the aisle in the Israeli (unintelligible), Israeli parliament, one would find that there is really no opposition to such a move. Everybody understands the grave consequences of such a military raid, if the need does arise for it.

But people here also understand the consequences of not acting against such a risk, maybe even graver.

RAZ: So, I take it when Israel's former chief of the army Shaul Mofaz recently told an Israeli newspaper that an attack on Iran is unavoidable, that didn't make people uncomfortable in Israel? That didn't irritate the government?

Mr. OREN: This did make people very irritated because one thing is to prepare for the eventuality and another thing is to do it out in the open and invite Iranian reaction and put Israel on the crosshairs of both world opinion and the Iranian regime.

RAZ: And practically speaking here, is the Israeli government prepared for the kind of retaliation that Iran might launched in the event its nuclear facilities were attacked?

Mr. OREN: The Israeli reared, the homeland defense is not prepared at all. We have seen the effects of what happened in Lebanon two years when Kuzballah(ph) shelled Israeli towns almost with impunity for more than a month. Nevertheless should Iran get the nuclear bomb, Israel would live under constant fear of what would happen if the Iranian missiles coupled with Iranian nuclear weapons were to be poised against it.

And therefore even though Israel would supposedly be attacked by Iranian missiles much the same way it was attacked by Iraq in 1991, this would be the less awesome prospect from Israel's point of view. Better to be hit by conventional weapons and high explosives now than by nuclear weapons a year from now.

RAZ: Do you think at some level some Israeli officials are happy that the information of this military exercise leaked out, that in a sense they kind of want the world to know about it?

Mr. OREN: This is not the sense we are getting here at all. This does not seem to be a leak coming out of Israel. The Israeli media is operating under heavy censorship. Israeli newspapermen do not have to wait for the Friday edition of the New York Times to know what is happening, but they are not allowed to share with our readers or with your listeners.

RAZ: Well, Amir Oren, thank you for being with us.

Mr. OREN: Thank you, Guy.

RAZ: Amir Oren is the chief national security correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz.

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RAZ: Coming up, why one group wants those quite hybrids to sound off.

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