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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 August, 2004, 20:25 GMT 21:25 UK
Israel puts Iran in its sights
The BBC's James Reynolds
By James Reynolds
BBC correspondent in Jerusalem

Israel's defence establishment is looking east with concern.

Aerial view of Natanz facility (Image: DigitalGlobe)
Some fear Iran is using its Natanz facility to develop nuclear weapons (Image: DigitalGlobe)
This summer, some here warn that Iran may become a nuclear power, perhaps within the next three or four years.

The Jewish state wants the world to act. If diplomacy fails, Israel warns that it knows how to work alone.

"Israel has many, many capabilities," says Danny Yatom, a former head of Mossad, Israel's international intelligence agency.

"And in the past Israel has carried out long-range military operations, like when we bombed the nuclear facility of Iraq [in 1981]. And since then one can imagine that we've improved our capabilities."

Tackling growing hostility

In public, most Israeli politicians choose to speak delicately about Iran and nuclear weapons, taking care to avoid talking directly of Israel's own never-discussed nuclear capabilities.

"Of course we have to develop our defensive capacities - passive, active, reactive," says Ephraim Sneh, who is a Labour member of parliament and a former deputy defence minister.

Map showing location of Israel, Iran and Iraq
"We have to strengthen all our defence shields against possible Iranian attack. But we don't have plans to attack Iran. I can tell you this for sure. It's not on the agenda."

There is one small corner where a handful of Israelis try to avoid the growing hostility between Israel and Iran - that is in Israel Radio's Persian service.

Every evening, from a small studio in Jerusalem, Menashe Amir presents the evening news in Persian. His broadcast goes out directly to Iran.

In his office, over a cup of Iranian tea, we discuss the two enemy countries, and the chance that they may choose to attack one another.

"You know, instead of being afraid, I think it's our duty, my duty, to do all my efforts to prevent a war between the two countries, to bring peace," he says.

"And that's exactly our message to our Iranian listeners."

For most ordinary Israelis the threat from a nuclear Iran is more a distant worry than an immediate concern.

The fear of being killed by a suicide bomber is more real than the thought of generals swapping bombs and missiles with Israel's enemy in the east.

'Obvious' timing

Some think there is a simple political reason for the current debate about Iran - a battle for military funding.

"What happened now is that Israel's intelligence leaders presented their assessment to the Knesset and it gained headlines in the Israeli press because now the battle on the budget is underway," says Yiftah Shapir, an analyst at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.

We will know how to defend ourselves
Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz,
on the outcome if Iran attacks
"The timing is obviously attached to the budget. I don't think there is a single general in the whole world who has enough - enough budget, enough equipment, and the enemy is always bigger and stronger."

And Israel is a country that never runs out of enemies.

For years, Saddam Hussein's Iraq was seen as the main existential threat to the Jewish state. But that place has now been taken by Iraq's neighbour.

A few months ago a man born in Tehran was a guest on Israel Radio's Persian service.

The guest had spent his early childhood in Iran before coming to Israel and joining the army. And he is now Israel's defence minister.

What if Iran attacks, Shaul Mofaz was asked. The minister answered: "We will know how to defend ourselves."

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22 Dec 03  |  Middle East

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