Friday, November 10, 2006

Words of Warning

Israel's newly-installed Deputy Defense Minister has issued the sternest warning yet on what his country must do to deter Iran's nuclear ambitions. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, Ephraim Sneh said that sanctions against Tehran are unlikely to work, so Israel must be prepared to thwart Iran's drive for a nuclear weapon "at all costs."

"I am not advocating an Israeli preemptive military action against Iran, and I am aware of all of its possible repercussions," Sneh stressed. "I consider it a last resort. But even the last resort is sometimes the only resort."

A transcript of the Post's complete interview with Mr. Sneh can be found here.

Sneh, a retired IDF Brigadier General and medical officer, was recently re-appointed to the Deputy Defense Minister position for the third time. He previously held the post under prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak; his return to the defense ministry--announced only two weeks ago by Prime Minister Olmert--is viewed as an effort to bring more military experience into Israel's security cabinet. Like most Israelis, both Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz served in the IDF, but Olmert never advanced beyond the rank of sergeant, and Peretz left the military as a captain, after suffering serious injuries in a 1974 training accident. In an ironic touch, Sneh's medical teams were responsible for saving Peretz's life after he was crushed between a pair of armored personnel carriers.

Now, as the Post notes, General Sneh is charged with saving the political career of Mr. Peretz, and (to some degree) the government of Prime Minister Olmert. After the recent Israeli debacle in Lebanon, public confidence in Olmert and his security team is at low ebb; bringing Mr. Sneh into the fold is an attempt to bolster Israeli support for the government, and provide better military advice at the highest levels of government. The return of General Sneh is something of a slap at Peretz and IDF Chief Lt Gen Dan Halutz, who have received most of the blame for the failures in Lebanon.

While Sneh describes Israel as "surrounded by a quartet of evil (Iran, Syria, Hizballah and Hamas), he supports a peace deal with the Palestinians, and removal of "illegal" Israeli outposts from the West Bank. Sneh has a close relationship with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and believes Israel can reach an agreement with Abbas' faction, but not Hamas. He believes that Israel should work to improve economic and living conditions in Gaza, to change an "atmosphere" that now favors the terrorist-led government.

General Sneh expressed concern over the continuing terrorist threat on Israel's doorstep, most notably the rocket launches from Gaza into southern Israel. But Iran remains his greatest worry, and Sneh doubts that current diplomatic efforts will bear fruit:

"I still hope the international community will take effective sanctions against Iran, though the chances are not high...My working assumption is that they won't succeed. Then I have to think about what the Jewish state can do about the danger. The danger isn't as much Ahmadinejad's deciding to launch an attack, but Israel's living under a dark cloud of fear from a leader committed to its destruction. He is inspired by a mystical Islamic belief. He thinks he will bring the Muslim messiah, the 12th Imam. I am afraid that under such a threat, most Israelis would prefer not to live here; most Jews would prefer not to come here with their families; and Israelis who can live abroad will. People are not enthusiastic about being scorched. I am afraid Ahmadinejad will be able to kill the Zionist dream without pushing a button. That's why we must prevent this regime from obtaining nuclear capability at all costs."

To counter the looming Iranian threat, Sneh says that Israel must improve its offensive and defensive capabilities. Those comments suggest that the new Deputy Defense Minister will strongly support Israel's on-going cruise missile program, and (possibly) efforts to improve the Jericho II intermediate range missile. The Jericho II has more than enough range to hit most of Iran, but its accuracy is limited, a problem that could be solved through the addition of improved guidance systems. Cruise missiles and an improved Jericho II would be welcome additions to Israel's fleet of long-range F-15Is, long viewed as the IDF's primary long-range strike platform. As we've noted in the past, Israel's ability to mount--and sustain--a long-range air strikes is limited by its aerial refueling capability.


Sneh's return to the defense ministry is certainly a political move, but it is also an indication that Olmert sees tough days ahead--and the growing possibility of a renewed conflict with Hizballah, and possibly, Iran. After last summer's debacle in Lebanon, both Olmert and Peretz need a skilled hand and solid advice, qualities that Sneh brings to the table. General Sneh's comments reaffirm that Iran nows dominates planning and assessment efforts within the IDF, despite the close-in terrorist threat, and the growing possibility of renewed conflict with Hizballah.

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