Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Israelis plan pre-emptive strike on Iran

By Ian Bruce
Defence Correspondent
The Herald (UK)

Israel is updating plans for a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities which could be launched as soon as the end of March, according to military and intelligence sources.

The news comes as Germany yesterday warned Tehran's regime that it would face "consequences" if it removes UN seals from portions of its atomic programme and resumes enrichment of fuel which could be diverted for military use in breach of international agreements.

The Israeli raids would be carried out by long-range F-15E bombers and cruise missiles against a dozen key sites and are designed to set Tehran's weapons programme back by up to two years.

Pilots at the Israeli air force's elite 69 squadron have been briefed on the plan and have conducted rehearsals for their missions.

The prime targets would be the uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, 150 miles south of Tehran, a heavy-water production site at Arak, 120 miles south-west of the capital, and a site near Isfahan in central Iran which makes the uranium hexafluoride gas vital to the arms manufacturing process.

Sources say one, possibly two airfields in Kurdish northern Iraq have been earmarked as launch-points to reduce flying time over Iran.

The Iranians have meanwhile dispersed production facilities across hundreds of miles of remote countryside to make a single, knockout blow more difficult.

They have also ringed the sites, some of them deep underground, with missile batteries and radar-controlled anti-aircraft guns.

Part of the reason for an acceleration of Israel's contingency strike plans is that Russia agreed last month to sell Tehran £700m-worth of advanced SA-15 Gauntlet mobile missile systems.

Some are believed to be destined for defence of Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant on the Gulf coast, which Russian engineers are helping to build.

Although Western military strategists think an attack on Tehran's scattered sites would be fraught with difficulties and could not be carried out without loss to the attacking forces, few doubt Israel's commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear firepower.

An Israeli source said: "We believe Iran will have useable nuclear weapons by 2007 unless something is done to prevent it. If Tehran is allowed to start enrichment of uranium, it will be too late.

"Underground facilities have to be supplied with air, water and fuel from the surface. They also have entrances which are vulnerable to conventional attack. Close down the infrastructure and you close down the facility."


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