Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Israel's defence minister says as long as Iran is a threat, all options are on the table

JERUSALEM - Israel's defence minister warned Monday that as long as Iran poses a threat to Israel with its nuclear program, all options are on the table, a reference to a possible Israeli attack.

Ehud Barak was speaking before The Foreign Press Association, which represents journalists covering Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Israel and the West suspect Iran is trying obtain nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful.

Barak said, "I believe it is well understood in Washington, D.C., as well as in Jerusalem that as long as there is an existential threat to our people, all options to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons should remain on the table."

Israel considers Iran a threat to its existence because of its nuclear and missile development programs, frequent reference to Israel's destruction by Iranian leaders and Iran's support of violent anti-Israeli groups in Lebanon and Gaza.

Barak and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have frequently hinted at the possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities but have not made an open threat.

"I have enough experience to know that a military option is not a simple one," Barak said of a potential strike. "It would be complicated with certain associated risks. But a radical Islamic Republic of Iran with nuclear weapons would be far more dangerous both for the region and, indeed, the world."

His remarks come as a steadily growing chorus of Israeli ex-security officials speak out against an Israeli strike on Iran. Former internal security chief Yuval Diskin recently caused an uproar when he said the government is misleading the public on the level of effectiveness of a military strike.

Other critics have warned that Israel could do no more than delay Iran's nuclear development for a few years at best, and an Israeli attack could trigger punishing retaliation from Iran and its proxies ? Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza ? and possibly set off a regionwide war, dragging the U.S. in.

Barak concentrated on the perceived threat to Israel, dismissing the case of the critics.

"Parts of the world, including some politically motivated Israeli figures, prefer to bury their heads in the sand," Barak said Monday.

Barak said that time is running out for a strike, as "Iran's military nuclear program will be sufficiently developed and suitably concealed, rendering the facilities immune to surgical attacks."

Iran is believed to have multiple underground nuclear sites.

Barak also addressed a year of upheavals in the Middle East that have overthrown several leaders, and Islamist political parties have gained prominence.

"Israel has found itself sitting as an island of stability in a stormy sea, a sea in which the waves of radicalism are growing in strength," Barak said.

Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979, but relations have been cool. Some Israelis warn that the rise of Islamists to power in Egypt could endanger the treaty, but the dominant Muslim Brotherhood has said the pact will be preserved.

At the same time, many Egyptians want changes in its conditions, particularly the limits on Egyptian forces in the Sinai desert, near Israel's borders.

Sinai has become increasingly lawless over the past year. A gas pipeline between Egypt and Israel has been bombed repeatedly, Palestinian militants used Sinai to infiltrate into Israel and killed eight people, and

The past year has seen multiple bombings on the gas pipeline between Israel and Egypt in the Sinai.

"We urge Egypt to contain lawlessness in the Sinai Peninsula," Barak said. "This is imperative in order to keep our two nations firmly on the path of peace, a peace that has contributed so much to so many for so long now."

Barak also addressed Syria, where a bloody 14-month uprising against President Bashar Assad is in progress. Israel and Syria are bitter enemies.

"Whatever follows Assad's bloodstained regime will be greeted with Israel's extended hand of peace," Barak said.

hossa the cell dickclark gavin degraw

Israel elections to be announced in 'coming days'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday looked set to call early elections, and Defence Minister Ehud Barak said he expected parliament to name a date within days.

Netanyahu, said to favour early elections in a bid to strengthen his position before a potential fight over austerity measures and US elections in November, has so far made no official announcement on a change to the date, currently scheduled for October 2013.

"Apparently the Knesset will decide on elections within the coming days," Barak, a close confidante of Netanyahu, was quoted by his office as telling members of his Independence party on Monday.

"Whether the elections themselves are set for the middle of August or the middle of October I don't see much difference. We are entering an election campaign."

"It's final," said Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party. "Now it is only a question of dates."

Lieberman, whose party is a key partner in Netanyahu's coalition government, told the Ynet news website he was eager for the vote to take place as quickly as possible.

"If the decision to go to elections has been made, we should hold them as quickly as possible," he said.

Israeli public radio said Netanyahu favours a date between mid-August and the beginning of September, while the head of the main opposition Kadima party, Shaul Mofaz, is pushing for October 16.

Commentators said there were plenty of reasons for Netanyahu to favour bringing the vote forward, including the desire to consolidate his position before having to implement budget cuts later this year.

He is also looking to bolster domestic support before US elections in November, which could return US President Barack Obama to office.

Netanyahu has differed with Obama on issues ranging from the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process to Iran's nuclear programme.

Another key reason for bringing the vote forward is a dispute over the issue of drafting Orthodox Jews into the army, which has threatened the stability of Netanyahu's coalition.

The so-called Tal Law, which allowed ultra-Orthodox Jews to defer their service in the Israeli military, is strongly opposed by Lieberman's staunchly secular Yisrael Beitenu party.

Netanyahu has pledged to replace the law, which expires this year, with a more "egalitarian" rule, but is caught between Yisrael Beitenu and the ultra-Orthodox factions in his coalition, who adamantly oppose military service.

The Knesset is expected to debate a replacement law on May 9.

Whenever the elections are held, polls have consistently showed Netanyahu and his Likud party coming out on top, with no credible rival to the prime minister.

A poll published by the Yediot Aharonot newspaper on Monday showed Likud increasing its strength from 27 to 30 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, if elections were held today.

The Labour party stands to make the biggest relative gain, winning 18 seats, from the nine it currently holds, while Yisrael Beitenu would lose two seats, leaving it with 13, the poll showed.

Kadima is expected to suffer crushing losses, with its standing reduced from 28 seats to 11, while the newly formed Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party would win 11 seats, the poll found.

The shape of any future coalition remains unclear, however, with Labour, Kadima and Yesh Atid all having expressed willingness to join a government led by Netanyahu.

rock center christine christine will ferrell double fine adventure turbo tax katharine mcphee