Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Israel Names General To Plan War With Iran

This public announcement by Israel looks to be a information operation against Iran.

Israel has appointed a top general to oversee a war against Iran, prompting speculation that it is preparing for possible military action against Teheran's nuclear programme.

Maj Gen Elyezer Shkedy, Israel's air force chief, will be overall commander for the "Iran front", according to military sources spoken to by The Sunday Telegraph.

News of the appointment comes just days before a United Nations deadline expires for Iran to give up its nuclear programme, which Western governments fear will be used to produce atomic weapons. Despite Iran's offer last week to engage in "serious talks" on the matter, Israel fears even more than other Western nations that the offer is simply to buy time for Teheran to secure all the technology it needs to build the bomb.

"Israel is becoming extremely concerned now with what they see as Iran's delaying tactics," said the Israeli Iran expert Meir Javedanfar. "They [the planners] think negotiations are going nowhere and Iran is becoming a major danger for Israel.

"Now they are getting ready for living with a nuclear Iran or letting the military take care of it."

The prospect of Israel "living with" a nuclear Iran appears remote. Last week Giora Eiland, Israel's former national security adviser, told reporters that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, would "sacrifice half of Iran for the sake of eliminating Israel".

President Ahmadinejad "has a religious conviction that Israel's demise is essential to the restoration of Muslim glory, that the Zionist thorn in the heart of the Islamic nations must be removed," Mr Eiland said. Gen Shkedy, who was appointed to the role two months ago, will co-ordinate intelligence gathered by Israel's foreign spy agency Mossad and military sources, in order to draw up battle plans. Then, during any war with Iran, he will command the campaign from a "hotseat" in the Israel army's headquarters in Tel Aviv.

"It's natural that Shkedy is nominated to this role, because the air force is Israel's only force that can reach and sustain a military operation against Iran," said Uri Dromi, a former air force colonel and military analyst.

"Everyone is playing with dates and timeframes, but the list of options is becoming shorter," he added. "I think we have one year open [to launch military action]. Israel will have to decide."

Officially, Israel stresses that it does not want to take the lead in tackling Iran, and that a massive campaign of air strikes would be best led by America, which has forces in Iraq that are much closer to Iranian targets.

Gen Shkedy's appointment to the Iran command role was made by Israel's chief of staff Dan Halutz in the run-up to this summer's Lebanon war, but emerged only last week.

Gen Shkedy, 49, is the son of Holocaust survivors and has a picture in his office of an Israeli F15 flying over Auschwitz.

The father of three makes no bones about the Iranian threat to Israel. "Ahmadinejad is trying with all his might to reach a nuclear capability. There's no argument about his intentions," he said in an interview two months ago, about the time of his appointment.

"This ... nuclear weaponry can come to constitute an existential threat to Israel and the rest of the world. My job is to maximise our capabilities in every respect. Beyond that, in this case, the less said the better."

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