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Israel Weighs Options in Face of Iranian Nuclear Threat

Zeev Raz is proud of how he led an Israeli air force squadron of F-16 bombers to destroy a nuclear facility near Baghdad. The retired Israeli air force pilot remembers it was a surprisingly easy job with little resistance from the Iraqis.

"When we approached the reactor and watched our radar scopes and saw that there was no plane over Baghdad, over the reactor, each of us thought that his radar was not functioning. It was too good to be true," he said.

It was June of 1981. It took one mission of less than an hour to destroy Saddam Hussein's nuclear program, which Israel believes Iraq could have used to strike the Jewish State.

Now, with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad speaking of the destruction of Israel and Iran developing its nuclear capabilities, the Jewish State believes its existence is again threatened.

On a recent visit to the White House, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his concerns clear.

"The worst danger we face is that Iran would develop nuclear military capabilities," he said.

Israelis tend to agree.

Yaakov Amidror is a retired general and former head of an Israel Defense Forces intelligence division. He says Israel cannot afford to ignore Mr. Ahmedinejad.

"When it is clear that from his point of ideology, Israel does not have the legitimacy to be a Jewish State in the Middle East, I think that from our experience, we have to take Ahmedinejad very seriously," said Amidror.

Ehud Barak, Israel's Defense Minister, has repeatedly warned that no option should be removed from the table, including air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.

But some here believe Israel may have waited too long, giving Iran time to develop its program. By some Israeli estimates, Tehran will be able to make a crude nuclear bomb within a year.

Former pilot Zeev Raz says Iran - in many ways - poses a much tougher challenge than Iraq did 29 years ago.

"The Iranian project is dispersed all over the country, which is a huge country, even larger than Iraq. It is much farther - as we all know - and many of the targets are deep under the ground, even under mountains," said the former pilot.

Another question is whether an air attack would result in a nuclear-free Iran. Amidror says the answer, to him, is obvious.

"The answer is a clear 'no.' The whole problem of Iran, the challenge that Iran puts on the table for the international arena, is something that Israel cannot deal with," he said. "That should be done from within Iran. The Iranians have to make a decision of what kind of government they want," said Amidror.

Israeli officials hope internal change in Iran will come as the result of new international sanctions, and leaders are aggressively lobbying for them.

On a visit to Germany last month, Israeli President Shimon Peres spoke before the German parliament.

He said Israel identifies with the millions of Iranians who have revolted against what he said is dictatorship and violence, and - in his words - a fanatic regime that threatens nuclear destruction and poses a danger to the entire world.

Former pilot Zeev Raz thinks Israel should keep pressing for tougher sanctions. He says there is no guarantee of success like the one Israel had in Iraq in 1981.

"The Iraqis were taken by surprise. There was no tactical problem. The planning was good. Execution was perfect. We also were quite lucky. We had much luck," he said. "If we go to Iran, we may not have that luck again," cautioned Raz.

Israelis hope regime change - or the threat of it - will cause Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions.

Until then, all options - starting with an air strike - are open.