Saturday, February 14, 2009

US intel predicts Israel-Iran war in 2009
Sat, 14 Feb 2009 09:26:39 GMT
An Israeli F-16i fighter takes off in a demonstration of air power in November. The F-16i has become known as the backbone of the Israeli Air Force and may be employed in an attack on Iran.
The US intelligence chief reportedly expects Israel and Iran to engage in a major military confrontation before the end of the year.

Dennis Blair, the newly-appointed head of US intelligence, said Tel Aviv will eventually declare war on Tehran as a last-ditch effort to curb Iran's enrichment capabilities, Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported on Saturday.

Detailed military plans to bomb Iran's nuclear infrastructure have long been on the table in Tel Aviv.

Israel accuses Iran, a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of pursuing a military nuclear program.

Iran, however, says it enriches uranium for civilian applications and that it has a right to the technology already in the hands of many others.

In an annual threat assessment to Congress on Thursday, Blair reconfirmed the findings of a 2007 intelligence report, asserting once again that Iran is not currently working toward weaponization.

The retired admiral said that while Iran has made progress in enrichment, there is proof that Tehran "does not currently have a nuclear weapon, and does not have enough fissile material for one".

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) issued in November 2007 by sixteen US intelligence agencies has been an obstacle to Israeli efforts in building a case for war against the Islamic Republic.

In a Friday interview, former Israeli UN ambassador Dan Gillerman nevertheless revealed that Tel Aviv is preparing a military offensive against the country.

Gillerman explained that Israel could no longer afford to wait for international efforts to bring Iran's enrichment to an end.

Israeli legislator and weapons expert Isaac Ben-Israel has also called for Tel Aviv to attack Tehran in the coming year.

The Israeli calls against Tehran come at a time when prospects for direct US-Iran diplomacy have increased significantly in recent weeks.

Iran and the US have had no diplomatic ties for almost thirty years, but in an abrupt volte-face in the White House policy of isolating Iran, US President Barack Obama has vowed to break the ice and create conditions for the two sides to "start sitting across the table, face to face" in the coming months.

"I think there's the possibility, at least, of a relationship of mutual respect and progress," Obama said at his first prime time press conference on Monday.

"My expectation is, in the coming months, we will be looking for openings that can be created where we can start sitting across the table face-to-face with diplomatic overtures that will allow us to move our policy in the new direction," he added.

Israel fears US-Iran talks may lead to rapprochement between the two countries -- a development that may be able to slightly change the balance of power in the Middle East.

Iran has shown openness toward US calls for dialogue but insists that Washington should be seeking lasting 'change' and not a mere shift in tactics.