Aug 15, 2012 No Comments ›› Pat Dollard
(FT) An Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear programme is likely to trigger a broader war between the two countries that could last 30 days, according to the Israeli minister who has been readying the country’s home defence.
Matan Vilnai, who left his post this week to become Israel’s ambassador to China, said the country was preparing for a scenario in which Iran and its allies in the region would fire hundreds of missiles at Israeli every day, causing as many as 500 fatalities. “It could be that there will be less fatalities, but it could be there will be more?.?.?.?The assessments are for a war that will last 30 days on a number of fronts.” His comments follow a surge in speculation about an impending Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, as well as a series of reports in the Israeli media questioning the country’s readiness for war with Iran. Critics point in particular to an acute shortage of gas masks, with Israel only holding supplies for about half the population.
In an interview with the Maariv daily Mr Vilnai sought to dispel these concerns, insisting that the “home front is ready as never before in the country’s history”. He argued that gas masks were “not the most important thing”, instead highlighting the recent series of drills to test the home defences.
On Tuesday Mr Vilnai was replaced by Avi Dichter, a former head of Shin Bet, the internal security service, and – until this week – a legislator for the opposition Kadima party.
Mr Vilnai’s comments come amid the recent war of words between senior Israeli and Iranian leaders, with international concern mounting that the two countries are heading for conflict.
Israel regards the Iranian nuclear programme as an existential threat and has said repeatedly that it will not permit the development of an Iranian nuclear bomb. Iran, in turn, insists that its programme serves only civilian purposes – a claim widely disputed by western governments.
Countries such as the US and Britain share Israel’s concern regarding Tehran’s nuclear ambitions but remain opposed to military action. Senior US officials have made clear they wish to give more time to diplomacy and sanctions in an effort to halt the Iranian programme.
That position was reaffirmed on Tuesday by Leon Panetta, the US secretary of defence, who insisted that “the window is still open to try to work towards a diplomatic solution”.
Mr Panetta also sought to play down the recent speculation about an Israeli attack on Iran, saying: “I don’t believe they’ve made a decision as to whether or not they will?.?.?.?go in and attack Iran at this time. Obviously, they’re an independent, sovereign country. They [will] ultimately make decisions based on what they think is in their national security interest. But I don’t believe they’ve made that decision at this time.”
? German police have arrested four men suspected of delivering valves for a heavy water reactor to Iran, breaking an embargo on such exports to the Islamic Republic imposed over its disputed nuclear programme, Reuters reports.
Prosecutors said some 90 customs officers arrested the men, a German and three with dual German-Iranian citizenship, at their homes in the northern cities of Hamburg and Oldenburg and the eastern town of Weimar, and searched flats and offices.
“In 2010 and 2011 the suspects are believed to have helped in the delivery of special valves for the construction of a heavy water reactor in Iran and therefore to have broken the Iran embargo,” prosecutors said in a statement on Wednesday.
They did not name the plant but Iran is building a heavy water research reactor near the central town of Arak, a type which western experts say could produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.