Israel, Fearing Ukraine Crisis Could Help Iran, Spends $2.9 Billion To Prepare Possible Strike

 @David_Kashi
on March 19 2014 1:44 PM
IDF
Israeli soldiers stand atop tanks in the Golan Heights near Israel's border with Syria March 19, 2014. Israel launched air strikes on Wednesday against Syrian military sites in response to a roadside bombing that wounded four of its soldiers, but both sides signaled they were not seeking further escalation. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

As Western powers focus on defusing the crisis in Crimea, another crisis in the Middle East keeps festering, and may accelerate as Israel announced plans to prepare for a possible strike on Iran.

Israeli senior military officials said, during committee hearings in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), in January and February that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon ordered the armed forces to prepare for a possible strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, with expenses of $2.9 billion for 2014, Haaretz reported Wednesday. Israel believes Iran is using its atomic energy program to develop nuclear weapons.

Members of the Knesset who leaked the information to the Israeli daily said the army’s deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, and planning directorate official Brig. Gen. Agai Yehezkel told them that regardless of current talks between Iran and the West, the army was continuing to prepare for a possible independent strike on Iran.

“We think that the United States should be the one leading the campaign against Iran,” Ya’alon said, just as the second round of negotiations began in Vienna Tuesday. “But the U.S. has entered talks with them and unfortunately, in the haggling in the Persian bazaar, the Iranians were better. (...) Therefore, on this matter, we have to behave as though we have nobody to look out for us but ourselves.”

Ya’alon and Netanyahu have increased their rhetoric recently to continue to put pressure on Iran, reminding that Israel is not bound by any agreements between Iran and the P5+1, the group of nations involved in the Iranian negotiations. (P5+1 is made up of the five permanent Security Council members -- U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France -- plus Germany.)

Michael Eisenstadt, a Mideast expert, said that the leak to Haaretz was motivated by Israeli concerns that the U.S. and international community are not maximizing pressure on Iran to strike a deal.

Not only are Israel’s concerns based on what its leadership believes is a lack of pressure, but on worry about the political tensions in Ukraine, which could give Iran more leeway.

“Perhaps events in Ukraine will divide the P5+1, which might create the perception in Iran that their leverage has improved and that there is no rush to strike a deal,” Eisenstadt, who is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute For Near East Policy, a Washington-based think tank, said.

Eisenstadt believes that the rhetoric and leaked information is an attempt to indicate to Iran that the military option is still “very much on the table.”

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