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Israel Pushes Harder Line On Iran Nuclear Ambitions

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Israel Pushes Harder Line On Iran Nuclear Ambitions

Middle East

Israel Pushes Harder Line On Iran Nuclear Ambitions

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

Iran today announced that it has test-launched a missile with a range of 800 to 1,200 miles. Analysts say such a missile could reach Israeli cities as well as U.S. military bases in the region. That missile launch comes just days after the disclosure of a secret uranium enrichment plant, and ahead of six- party talks later this week between Iran and a group of world powers. As NPR's Peter Kenyon reports, Israel supports new sanctions against Iran, but it also believes the best option may ultimately be the military option.

PETER KENYON: Neither the reported launch of the Shahab 3 missile, nor last week's disclosure of a new Iranian nuclear plant, came as a shock to Israel. Officials here have long argued that Iran's leaders are pursuing nuclear weapons in spite of their insistence that they merely want nuclear power plants. Israelis seized on the revelation of the new Iranian facility as an opportunity to push reluctant Western powers to take stronger action. Israel's hawkish foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, told Israel Radio that there is no longer any doubt that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

Mr. AVIGDOR LIEBERMAN (Foreign Minister, Israel): (Through translator) I spoke this weekend with experts from the East and the West. No one has any doubt. According to the technical data that was published, it's a military plant. The disagreement has been done away with.

KENYON: Iranian officials insist that is not the case and have offered to let international inspectors view the facility. Israel has joined the push for tougher sanctions against Iran. But for Israeli military analysts, even punishing sanctions - difficult as they may be to achieve - are merely another step along the 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 that 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.

Mr. EFRAIM INBAR (Director, Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies): In Western Europe, they have a strategic culture which views military action as something anachronistic, a thing of the past. Maybe Obama administration has changed somewhat its tone, but I must say that in the Middle East, Obama is still viewed as very weak. And I don't think that another Obama speech will impress very much the Iranian elite.

KENYON: On the other hand, 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, quote, 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. And they warn that terrorist strikes could even reach Europe or the U.S.

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

Mr. INBAR: Even 9/11 is something that America recuperated, you know, 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, you know, the West from attacking Iranian nuclear sites.

KENYON: Israel is not the only state taking a hard line on the issue. In Tehran today, Iran's defense minister told state television that an Israeli attack would, quote, expedite the Zionist regime's last breath.

Peter Kenyon NPR News, Jerusalem.

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