Former officials: Israeli or U.S. strike would only delay Iran’s nuclear plans, could backfire

A group of former U.S. security officials said an Israeli or U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities may delay Iran’s nuclear program by two to four years.

A U.S. air strike involving Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC) stealth B-2 bombers dropping 30,000-pound precision-guided penetrating bombs “carried out to near perfection” could delay Iran’s program by up to four years, according to the report.

The report was released on Thursday by the “Iran Project,” a New York-based bipartisan group of former national-security officials and foreign-policy specialists, Bloomberg News reported.

A unilateral strike by Israel “with its more limited capabilities, could delay Iran’s ability to build a bomb by up to two years,” the report said.

An Israeli airstrike “is unlikely to succeed in destroying or even seriously damaging” the deeply buried Fordo enrichment facility and the stockpile of near-weapons-grade enriched uranium there, the report said.

Air raids, commando assaults and computer network attacks “would destroy or severely damage many of Iran’s physical facilities and stockpiles,” according to the report. But, the report asserted, “complete destruction” of Iran’s nuclear program is unlikely.

The report concluded that an attack would “damage the U.S. reputation and standing.”

“If Iran’s nuclear program is attacked by the U.S. or Israel in the absence of an international mandate or a multinational coalition, support for maintaining sanctions against Iran could be substantially weakened,” the report said.

Iran may retaliate by attempting to close the Strait of Hormuz, an action that would “rattle global markets and cause a significant spike in oil prices,” according to the report.

Israel bombs Gaza sites

Israeli Air Force planes attacked five sites in the Gaza Strip two days after an Israeli soldier was killed near the security fence with Gaza.

The early Sunday morning attacks targeted what the IDF described as three weapons manufacturing facilities in the central Gaza Strip and two tunnels allegedly used to attack Israeli military patrols in the area.

The Palestinian news service Ma’an reported Sunday morning that Israeli planes struck the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, wounding seven people, including four children. The sites targeted by the Air Force belong to the Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror organizations, Israeli military sources said.

A Palestinian gunman infiltrated the Israel-Gaza borer early Friday morning, killing Netanel Moshiashvili of Ashkelon.

Netanyahu says Israel ‘regrets’ hitting Palestinian civilians

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he regretted the accidental killing of four members of a Palestinian family in their Gaza home by Israeli tank fire.

Netanyahu in a statement Tuesday from the Prime Minister’s Office emphasized that the shooting was in response to fire by Hamas at Israeli citizens.

“It is unfortunate that Hamas continues to rain down dozens of rockets on Israeli civilians intentionally using civilians as shields,” he said. “Israel has no intention of bringing about a deterioration of the situation, but at the same the IDF will continue to act decisively to protect Israeli citizens.”

Later Tuesday evening, three gunmen from the al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, were killed in an Israeli airstrike, according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency. The Israel Defense Forces said it struck terrorists on their way to launch rockets at Israel; the IDF identified them as the terrorists who launched a Grad-style rocket on Beersheba last month.

A Kassam rocket fired from Gaza struck Ashkelon shortly after.

Some 13 other Palestinians, including children, also were injured in Tuesday afternoon’s strike, which came after four Kassam rockets fired from Gaza hit southern Israel, according to reports. Israeli troops fired in the direction of Palestinians who had launched mortars at them, accidentally hitting the home, reports said.

Also Tuesday, Israeli troops fired on Gaza Palestinians preparing to launch an anti-tank missile at an Israeli force operating in the northern Gaza Strip. The IDF in a statement said its soldiers hit their target.

Israeli combat planes late Monday night pounded the Gaza Strip in retaliation for a weekend mortar attack, the worst barrage of rocket attacks on southern Israel in two years. More than 50 mortar shells struck the area on Saturday morning. On Monday, a long-range Grad-style rocket was fired from Gaza at southern Israel.

The Israelis’ attack hit two terror tunnels, two weapons manufacturing and storage facilities and two additional terror activity sites across the Gaza Strip, according to the IDF. Israel Radio said there were reports from Palestinian sources of 17 wounded.

Israel had responded earlier Monday to Saturday’s barrage with airstrikes on suspected bomb smuggling tunnels. The latest attack seemed more comprehensive and sustained, according to Israel Radio.

The armed wing of Hamas, Izzadin Kassam Brigades, had claimed responsibility for most of the explosives sent Saturday from Gaza.

Before Israel’s attack Monday night, a spokesman for Hamas, the terrorist group that controls Gaza, had indicated that the group was ready to return to a fragile truce.

Israel airstrikes hit Hamas compound, killing 2

Israeli airstrikes hit a Hamas compound in the central Gaza Strip, reportedly killing at least two Palestinians.

Wednesday’s strike was in response to a rocket fired on the western Negev earlier in the day, according to the Israeli military. The rocket, which landed in Sderot, caused no damage or injuries.

Palestinian medical officials told news media that two Hamas members were killed in the attack; a third was reported injured. The Palestinian Maan news agency identified the victims as members of Hamas’ Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades.

The compound was located in the former Jewish settlement of Netzarim, Haaretz reported.

More than 60 mortar shells and rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israeli territory since the beginning of 2011.

Attack Forces Israel to Strike at Syria

This week’s Israeli airstrike on an Islamic Jihad training camp near Damascus, which followed the group’s deadly suicide bombing in Haifa on Saturday, was a sign to the Arab world that Israel will not be constrained by borders when it comes to the war on terrorism.

The attack came hours before the 30th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, when Israel was blindsided by Syria and Egypt.

Combined with Israel’s anti-terror operations in the West Bank and Gaza and the construction of the security fence, the strike against terrorist camps in Syria appears to show that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is not willing to restrict its military operations to reap the benefits of diplomatic restraint.

Sunday’s strike was also a message to Syria, which has offered support to Palestinian terrorist groups and is on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist-sponsoring nations.

The strike, Sharon spokesman Ra’anan Gissin said, “was a very clear, focused message [to Syria to] start dismantling the terror organizations that operate from its territory,” Reuters reported.

The bombing that prompted the strike killed at least 19 people in Haifa, including several children, and wounded 45.

In an echo of President Bush’s warning to state supporters of terrorists following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner said, “Any country who harbors terrorism, who trains, supports and encourages them, will be responsible to answer for their actions,” Ha’aretz reported.

Syria’s response to the first Israeli attack deep inside its territory in almost three decades was somewhat muted, though it called the strike a “grave escalation.”

The country’s foreign minister, Farouk al-Sharaa, said Syria would not respond militarily to the attack but that Syria would press the U.N. Security Council to convene and discuss the attack.

In an apparent effort to minimize the affront to Syrian President Bashar Assad, Israeli government spokespeople emphasized that the target inside Syrian territory was Palestinian and came strictly to “send a message” following Islamic Jihad’s suicide bombing a Haifa restaurant.

Jerusalem probably will not suffer too much diplomatic fallout as a result of its strike in Syria.

In recent months, the U.S. State Department has stepped up pressure on Assad to curtail the activities of terrorist groups operating inside Syria and headquartered in Damascus, but to no avail. Washington also is unlikely to be impressed with Islamic Jihad’s denial that Israel’s target was one of its training camps.

Also, early reports said the Israeli strike resulted in very few casualties, a fact likely to temper any negative diplomatic consequences.

Some analysts said the Israeli action could result in some serious soul-searching in Damascus.

While Assad could avenge the attack near Damascus using his Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, he has not done so in the past when faced with an Israeli strike on a Syrian target. After Sharon ordered the bombing of a Syrian radar installation in Lebanon in 2001 in response to Hezbollah shelling of Har Dov in northern Israel, things in southern Lebanon grew quieter, rather than more combatant.

Sunday’s strike also takes some heat off of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

While some Israeli lawmakers renewed their calls for Arafat’s expulsion following the Haifa bombing, Israel’s decision to focus on Syrian training camps rather than punish the Palestinian leader for his inaction against terrorists means Arafat is probably safe from Israeli action — for now.

Minutes after the Haifa bombing, Arafat’s elite militia, Force 17, set up gun encampments around Arafat’s Ramallah compound, intent on mounting a defense against Israeli commandos. But despite Israel’s Cabinet decision last month to, in principle, “remove” the Palestinian leader from power, no such action was forthcoming.

Instead, Israeli helicopter gunships rocketed terrorist arsenals in Gaza Strip.

However, what Arafat gained in security he lost in dignity, some analysts noted. Sounding the false alarms of a call to his defense, and issuing a quick denunciation of the Haifa bombing, Arafat’s moves had a ring of desperation in many Palestinian ears.

The move against Syria, and the relative inattention to Arafat in the wake of Saturday’s terrorist attack, has shifted the spotlight onto Islamic Jihad, the other major Palestinian Islamic terrorist group after Hamas.

While kindred in ideology to Hamas, Islamic Jihad lacks Hamas’ public profile and popularity, in part because it does not have Hamas’ extensive network of social services.

Damascus was one of the few places where Islamic Jihad enjoyed full official status. But with Israel’s airstrike — and the deadly bombing in Haifa on the eve of Judaism’s holiest day — the group could face new pressure to curtail its activities.

“We will not tolerate the continuation of this axis of terror between Tehran, Damascus and Gaza to continue to operate and kill innocent men, women and children,” the Israeli prime minister’s spokesman, Gissin, said, according to media reports.