Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Escalation: Iranian Drones Over Israel

by P. David Hornik

A still image taken from IDF video footage shows what they say is a small unidentified aircraft shot down in a mid-air interception after it crossed into southern Israel 

On Thursday an Israeli warplane shot a drone into the Mediterranean just west of the Haifa shoreline. The drone came from Lebanon, and Israeli media immediately reported that it was sent by Hizballah—even though the prime minister and the IDF spokesman, in their public statements on the incident, made no such claim.

Amos Harel, military analyst for Haaretz, reports that the reason for that omission is probably that it wasn’t Hizballah that sent the plane but, rather, Iran—specifically its Revolutionary Guards contingent in Lebanon.

The UK’s Telegraph reports that “according to Syrian rebels and Israeli intelligence, Tehran has poured Revolutionary Guard soldiers into Syria and Lebanon to support its Shiite allies.” The Revolutionary Guards are also believed to have been behind another drone sent from Lebanon in October. That one entered Israeli airspace and was shot down not far from Israel’s nuclear plant in the Negev.

The Telegraph quotes a “Western diplomat” saying: “The Israeli military command doesn’t treat drones launched from Lebanon lightly, since their goal may be not only taking pictures, but also an assassination of senior officials, military or political.” In fact, at the time Thursday’s drone was spotted, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was flying across northern Israel, and his helicopter had to be grounded until the drone was downed.

What was the drone’s mission? Probably not to hit Netanyahu, since that would be an open act of war and Iran, with its elections upcoming in June and its nuclear program probably not quite yet at the finish line, wouldn’t seek that outcome at this point. Harel speculates that “Iran wished to openly demonstrate its potential ability to damage essential facilities in Israel.”

Some believe those “essential facilities” were, in this instance, Israel’s new natural-gas fields in the Mediterranean. Harel claims the drone’s route suggests otherwise.

In any case, despite ongoing “options on the table” talk from Washington and “Israel has the right to defend itself” talk from Jerusalem, it’s clear that the situation is getting worse rather than better. One would have to imagine Al Qaeda drones flying over the U.S. or along its coast—except that Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization while Iran is a country, and Israel is much smaller than the U.S. (one-ninth the size of Nebraska, as Nebraskan defense secretary Chuck Hagel was informed in Israel last week).

If the situation is bad now, with Iran encamped on Israel’s border and able to send drones toward or even into its territory, clearly it would be a lot worse if Iran had nuclear bombs. And indeed top Israeli security experts have been sounding the alarm.

Last week it was former chief of military intelligence Amos Yadlin saying that “for all intents and purposes, Iran has crossed Israel’s red line…in the summer, Iran will be a month or two away from deciding about a bomb.”

And on Monday Ephraim Asculai, a researcher at the think tank Yadlin now heads, the Institute for National Security Studies, wrote that:
Iran has been steadily increasing its efforts to advance its nuclear program. It has established an impressive infrastructure and has produced enough 3.5 percent-enriched uranium, and some 20% enriched uranium, to suffice, if further enriched, for the production of several nuclear explosive devices within a relatively short time.
Also on Monday Uri Heitner, an astute columnist for Israel Hayom, had this to say:
Just as Assad used his chemical weapons, the Iranian regime could use nuclear weapons. Diplomacy and sanctions have played out. Now, only a military operation can prevent it. If Israel is left without an option, it will be forced to do it alone, but we can still hope we don’t reach this point.
During his visit to Israel, Obama promised that Iran will never possess a nuclear weapon. Those in his inner circle keep saying that the president is not bluffing. The time has come to put an end to Iran’s game of buying time and to act.
The other alternative is to keep playing games with sanctions and—even more wretchedly—“diplomacy” and court disaster.

P. David Hornik


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