More signs Israel may strike Iran soon

Friday, March 30, 2012 |  Ryan Jones

Speculation that Israel is preparing to launch a pre-emptive military strike against Iran's defiant nuclear program was bolstered this week by a handful of incidents that suggested the Jewish state may indeed be preparing to take such action.

Early this week, Tel Aviv received its first "Iron Dome" anti-missile battery, despite the fact that the missiles being fired by Gaza-based terrorists can't quite reach Israel's largest metropolitan center at this time. Israeli military officials said the battery was deployed in order to test its effectiveness in that setting should a future threat arise. It is widely believed that if Israel strikes Iran, the first target of Iran's response will be Tel Aviv.

Then on Tuesday, the German newspaper Bild published an interview with German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere in which he stated that a recent meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak had left de Maiziere "more concerned" that Israel was planning to act against Iran in the near future.

One of the trickier aspects of an airstrike on Iran's nuclear facilities has been which route to take. Flying over enemy Arab nations is risky, and traditional ally Turkey has of late turned into one of Israel's most venomous regional antagonists. The Washington-based journal Foreign Policy reports that Israel may have solved that problem.

In a story published on Wednesday, Foreign Policy cited senior American government officials who suggested that Israel had secured the use of airbases in Azerbaijan, a Caucasus nation that borders Iran to the north. "The Israelis have bought an airfield, and the airfield is called Azerbaijan," said one US official.

During a visit to Tehran this month, Azerbaijan's defense minister rejected Iranian claims that his nation would allow Israel to launch an attack from its soil. "The Republic of Azerbaijan, like always in the past, will never permit any country to take advantage of its land, or air, against the Islamic Republic of Iran, which we consider our brother and friend country," said the Azeri minister.

However, a 2009 US diplomatic cable that was made public in the recent WikiLeaks scandal revealed that Azerbaijan and Israel have extensive behind-the-scenes dealings and security cooperation. Last month, Azerbaijan quietly inked a deal to buy $1.6 billion worth of Israeli arms, and Iran has accused its neighbor of assisting Israel in the recent assassinations of key Iranian nuclear officials.

On top of that, members of Azerbaijan's ruling party recently suggested changing the name of their country to "North Azerbaijan" because there are 16 million Azeris living in northern Iran who are in need of "liberation."

Meanwhile, a US congressional report obtained by Bloomberg warned that a one-time Israeli strike on Iran's top nuclear facilities would likely only set its nuclear program back by about six months. The report cast doubt on Israel's ability to identify and meaningfully damage all of Iran's dispersed nuclear facilities, and suggested that such a move could obligate Israel to engage in a campaign of regular follow-up attacks.

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