The paper said no decision had yet been taken on any military strike
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking cabinet support for a military strike on Iran, Israel's Haaretz newspaper has reported, after days of speculation on plans for such an attack. © Tara Todras-Whitehill - AFP/Pool/File
The paper said no decision had yet been taken on any military strike
Jean-Luc Renaudie, AFP
Last updated: November 2, 2011

Speculation over Israeli strike on Iran grows

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking cabinet support for a military strike on Iran, the Haaretz newspaper reported on Wednesday, after days of speculation about plans for an attack.

The report, citing a senior Israeli official, said Netanyahu was working with Defence Minister Ehud Barak to win support from sceptical members of the cabinet who oppose attacking Iranian nuclear facilities.

It came after days of renewed public discussion among Israeli commentators about the possibility that the Jewish state would take unilateral military action against Iran.

It also came as Israel successfully tested what local media called a "ballistic missile" which a defence ministry official described to AFP as a "test firing of the rocket-propulsion system" which he said had long been scheduled.

Haaretz said that Netanyahu and Barak had already scored a significant win by convincing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to throw his support behind a strike.

But the newspaper cited the senior Israeli official as saying there was still "a small advantage" in the cabinet for those opposed to an attack.

Among those still opposed, Haaretz said, are Interior Minister Eli Yishai of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor, Strategic Affairs Minister and Netanyahu confidant Moshe Yaalon, and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.

Media reports say any strike is also opposed by army chief Benny Gantz, the head of Israel's intelligence agency Tamir Pardo, the chief of military intelligence Aviv Kochavi and the head of Israel's domestic intelligence agency Yoram Cohen.

The United States, which like Israel has declined to rule out military action to prevent Iran developing a nuclear weapons capability, said it would not comment on what it called the "buzz" coming out of Israel, insisting it remained squarely focused on a diplomatic solution.

"I'm not going to respond to that kind of speculation," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

"We remain focused on a diplomatic channel here, a diplomatic course in terms of dealing with Iran."

Iran's military chief, General Hassan Firouzabadi, warned on Wednesday that his country would "punish" any Israeli strike against it.

"We consider any threat -- even those with low probability and distant -- as a definite threat. We are on full alert," he said, quoted by Fars news agency.

"With the right equipment, we are ready to punish them and make them regret (committing) any mistake," he said.

On Monday, Barak was forced to deny media reports that he and Netanyahu had already decided to launch an attack against Iran over the opposition of military and intelligence chiefs.

"It doesn't take a great genius to understand that in 2011 in Israel, two people cannot decide to act by themselves," he said.

On Tuesday, Barak appeared to suggest in remarks to parliament that Israel could be forced to act alone against Iran.

"A situation could be created in the Middle East in which Israel must defend its vital interests in an independent fashion, without necessarily having to reply on other forces, regional or otherwise," he said.

Haaretz said no decision had yet been taken on any military strike, and that a November 8 report from the International Atomic Energy Agency nuclear watchdog would have a "decisive effect" on the decision-making process.

The newspaper also cited Western specialists as saying any attack on Iran during the winter would be almost impossible because of thick cloud cover, raising questions about when any military action might be launched.

Israel has consistently warned all options remain on the table when it comes to Iran's nuclear programme, which the Jewish state and Western governments fear masks a drive for nuclear weapons.

Iran denies any such ambition and insists its nuclear programme is for power generation and medical purposes only.

The renewed speculation about a potential attack on Iran, including public debate about the wisdom of any strike, was strongly criticised by several Israeli ministers, who called the discussion irresponsible.

Justice Minister Dan Meridor, speaking to the Israeli daily Maariv, called the public debate "nothing less than a scandal."

"Not every issue is a matter for public debate," he warned. "The public elected a government to make decisions about things like this in secret. The public's right to know does not include the debate about classified matters like this."

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