News / Middle East

Along Israel's Border, Preparations Made for Iran-Backed Attacks

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Scott Bobb

Israel and the United States are planning joint military exercises in early 2012 with a focus on missile defense. The moves come amid recent Israeli media reports that Israel's government is considering an attack on Iran's controversial nuclear sites. Iran has vowed to hit back. In northern Israel preparations are being made for that possibility.

At Israel's northernmost border, a fence separates towns and farms in Israel and the occupied Golan Heights from southern Lebanon, a base for Hezbollah, and from Syria. Both are allies of Iran.  

In December, Israel staged military exercises in the Golan. It also held emergency drills on how to respond to attacks by missiles and biological weapons.

Uzi Rubin, the former head of Israel's missile defense program, says Israel must prepare for retaliation if, as Israeli media report, Israel first attacks Iranian nuclear sites. "We don't have a good answer for that as yet. For air threats we have a very strong air force, ground threats we have a very strong ground force. For this, we are wide open yet (still)," Rubin said.

Iran says its nuclear ambitions are peaceful. But Israel fears Iran is building a nuclear weapon. Iran has missiles that can reach Israel and even Europe, and could carry nuclear warheads.

Iran's ally, Syria, has thousands of short-range missiles, as does its Lebanon-based ally, Hezbollah.

Several rockets were fired into Israel recently from Lebanon.  Iranian-backed Palestinian groups to the south in Gaza also fire rockets into Israel. Those attacks show how Israel is vulnerable from the north and south.

Despite the rocket fire, Rubin says the threat is not so much that Iran might launch a nuclear weapon but that it could become a nuclear power.

"The [Iranian] agenda is domination, regional - and more - domination. When they have nuclear power they will have to be treated as a major power and then they will leverage that power not just against Israel but against the rest of the world, mainly the West," Rubin said.

But analyst Mahdi Abdel Hadi of the Palestinian research center PASSIA says Israel is exaggerating the Iranian threat.

"From the Arab-Palestinian perspective, nobody believes that the Iranians are interested in confronting Israel or to challenge the world. They are facing very hard internal issues and problems," Abdel said.

But along Israel's northern border, Iran's threat is not being taken lightly. Hezbollah has reportedly been stockpiling missiles and rockets. And Israeli intelligence is sure that group would not hesitate to use them.

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