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Jan 26, 2013 No Comments ›› Infidel

JERUSALEM — Israel’s departing defense minister, Ehud Barak, said that the Pentagon had prepared sophisticated blueprints for a surgical operation to set back Iran’s nuclear program should the United States decide to attack — a statement that was a possible indication that Israel has shelved plans for any unilateral strike.

In an interview conducted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and published by The Daily Beast on Friday, Mr. Barak was asked if there was any way Israel could go to war with Iran over what many in the West believe is a nuclear weapons program without dragging in the war-weary United States.

Mr. Barak replied that there were more than just the two options — of full-scale war or allowing Iran to obtain nuclear weapons capability — in the event that sanctions and diplomacy failed.

“What we basically say is that if worse comes to worst, there should be a readiness and an ability to launch a surgical operation that will delay them by a significant time frame and probably convince them that it won’t work because the world is determined to block them,” he said.

Under orders from the White House, Mr. Barak added, “the Pentagon prepared quite sophisticated, fine, extremely fine, scalpels,” referring to the ability to carry out pinpoint strikes.

Herbert Krosney, an American-Israeli analyst and the author of a book about the arming of Iran and Iraq, said Mr. Barak’s statement “indicates that there is close cooperation” between Israel and the United States.

“I think there is a realization in Israel that it would be extremely difficult for Israel to operate alone,” he said.

The Pentagon declined to comment on the report, but a senior defense official said: “The U.S. military constantly plans for a range of contingencies we might face around the world, and our planning is often quite detailed.” The official added, “That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.”

Iran insists that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.

Mr. Barak and the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, led a hawkish line against Iran’s nuclear drive over the past few years, emphasizing Israel’s doctrine of self-reliance for such existential issues and warning that the time to stop Iran from gaining nuclear capabilities was running out.

But faced with tough opposition from Washington, particularly ahead of the November presidential elections, and public criticism from a string of former Israeli security chiefs, the prospect of an imminent unilateral Israeli strike receded in recent months. Israel suggested that its own deadline had been put off until this spring or summer.

In the past few weeks Mr. Netanyahu campaigned for re-election in Israel as a strong leader who, among other things, had managed to persuade the world to deal with the Iranian threat.

Mr. Netanyahu and his conservative Likud Party emerged weakened from the elections, with much of the Israeli electorate more focused on domestic issues. Late Tuesday he said “the first challenge was and still is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

Mr. Barak chose not to run for re-election after polls showed that his tiny Independence faction was unlikely to pass the electoral threshold. He announced a timeout from politics, though he has not ruled out a comeback.

In the interview last week, Mr. Barak did not specify what the Pentagon’s “scalpels” were. But there has been a broad effort at the White House, the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies to develop a series of options that could set back, though probably not halt, Iran’s nuclear progress.

One layer of plans, officials have said in interviews, involves covert means of interrupting the supply of uranium to Iran’s enrichment plants, or crippling the plants themselves. The biggest target is a deep underground plant called Fordow, outside the holy city of Qum. There, under a mountain, Iran is producing most of its medium-enriched uranium, a type that could be converted to bomb grade in a matter of months. The site is hardened, and probably beyond Israel’s ability to destroy from the air. The United States has one weapon that officials believe could do it: the newly deployed “Massive Ordnance Penetrator,” a huge conventional bomb that is designed to attack deep, hardened sites.

But officials familiar with the planning say that it would most likely require repeated strikes to do significant damage, and the existence of any plans, officials note, does not indicate an intent to them carry them out. Mr. Obama has been deeply hesitant to get the United States or Israel involved in another Mideast war. The appeal of covert actions is that the individual strikes are hard to attribute to any country.