Top US official: IAF unlikely to hit Iran in '08

US won't take military option off table, but is focusing on increased world sanctions against Iran.

Natanz 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Natanz 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel is unlikely to feel the need to stage a military strike on Iran in 2008, a senior American official said Tuesday, hours after Pentagon officials were quoted as saying the Jewish state was likely to attack the Islamic Republic by the end of the year. "I honestly don't think your government will feel so much pressure to resort to military force" by the end of the year, the official said, adding, however, that he didn't rule out the use of force. The official said there was no consensus in the Israeli government that the use of force against Iran "is inevitable." "I don't sense Israel wants to go it alone," the official said, pointing out that when Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz commented last month that Israel might have no choice but to attack Iran, "there was criticism of those statements." The official said he did not sense that Israel felt the situation was so desperate that there was need for military action by the end of the year. The US, while not taking the military option off the table, was concentrating on increasing its sanctions against Iran, and encouraging other states - especially European countries - to strengthen their own sanctions, the official said. With France taking over the rotating presidency of the EU on Tuesday, he expected President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has made tough statements on the matter, to be active on the Iranian issue and that the US would support and encourage him. The US and Israel had a disagreement of between six months to a year as to when Iran's nuclear program would reach the point of no return, the senior American official said. Regarding the large Israeli air exercise over Greece last month, he said this was not necessarily a signal to Teheran, but rather an impressive show of the IAF's ability over a long distance. The official's comments contrasted starkly with an ABC news report that quoted US defense officials voicing concern that Israel would target the Islamic Republic's nuclear installations by the end of 2008, and saying that such a move might prompt a wave of Iranian retaliatory attacks against both Israeli and US targets. According to an unnamed Pentagon official quoted in the report, there is an "increasing likelihood" of such an attack as Teheran approaches two red lines in Israel's view: The first is when Iran produces enough highly enriched uranium to develop a nuclear weapon - something that could happen in 2009 and perhaps even by the end of 2008, according to US and Israeli assessments. "The red line," the official said, "is not when they get to that point, but before they get to that point. We are in the window of vulnerability." The second red line, said the Pentagon official, was an Iranian acquisition of the SA-20 air defense system from Russia. The system would make an Israeli strike much more difficult, and if an offensive is being planned, it is likely to take place before that time, according to ABC. Again quoting a senior Pentagon official, ABC reported that the large IAF exercise conducted in early June was "not a rehearsal, but basic, fundamental training" for an attack on Iran. "The Israeli Air Force has already conducted the basic exercise necessary to tell their senior leadership, 'We have the fundamentals down,'" the official said. "Might they need some more training and rehearsals? Yes. But have they done the fundamentals? I think that is what we saw." He added that additional drills were to be expected as a possible operation nears. According to the ABC report, the Pentagon officials said an Israeli attack could not destroy Iran's nuclear program, and would only do temporary damage. The US State Department dismissed the report on Tuesday. "I have no information that would substantiate that," spokesman Tom Casey said, criticizing the official quoted for not speaking publicly. "I think it's rather foolish of people who often have no clue what they're talking about to assert things and not even have the courtesy to do so on the basis of their name," he told reporters in Washington. Israel, as well as spokesmen for the Pentagon, CIA and the White House, declined to comment on the report, and Iran dismissed it as propaganda. Also on Tuesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert toured the nuclear facility in Dimona and met with the facility's director, Yitzhak Gorbitch, and with Israel Atomic Energy Commission director Shaul Horev.