Israel boosts rocket defenses on Egypt border


Israel has boosted its rocket defenses near its southern border with Egypt to counter possible attacks from Islamist militants fighting security forces in Egypt's Sinai peninsula, Israeli officials said on Tuesday.

Violence in Sinai has surged since the army ousted elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, with militants killing at least 20 people in almost daily assaults in the area.

“We hear reports every day of attacks there and our concern is that the guns will be turned on us,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said. “We have indeed strengthened our deployment along the border.”

He was speaking on a visit to an “Iron Dome” missile Defense system that was deployed last week in the southern town Eilat.

He said that since Morsi's overthrow, Egypt had increased its efforts to curb militants who have exploited a security vacuum in the Sinai since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak.

“We can see much more effective activity of the Egyptian army and security forces there in the past few months and mainly in the past few weeks after the change in government,” Yaalon said.

With Egyptian security forces pressing the militants, Israel was expecting trouble, one Israeli official said.

“The assessment in recent days is that given the Egyptian crackdown in Sinai, the terrorist elements there will try to demonstrate their survivability and defiance by shelling us,” said the official, who asked not to be identified.

A rocket fired from Sinai landed in Israel earlier this month and its remnants were found in hills north of Eilat, a Red Sea resort that abuts Egypt to the west and Jordan to the east.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Alistair Lyon

Hosting U.S. defense chief, Israel hints at patience on Iran


Israel suggested on Monday it would be patient before taking any military action against Iran's nuclear program, saying during a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel there was still time for other options.

With Iran's presidential election approaching in June there has been a pause in hawkish rhetoric by Israel, which has long hinted at possible air strikes to deny its arch-foe any means to make an atomic bomb, while efforts by six world powers to find a negotiated solution with Tehran have proved fruitless so far.

“We believe that the military option, which is well discussed, should be the last resort,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told reporters at a news conference with Hagel.

“And there are other tools to be used and to be exhausted,” Yaalon said, listing diplomacy, economic sanctions and “moral support” for domestic opponents of Iran's hardline Islamist leadership.

Iran has denied seeking nuclear weapons capability, saying it is enriching uranium only for domestic energy purposes while calling for the elimination of the Jewish state. Israel is widely believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal.

U.S. President Barack Obama has in the past clashed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over how urgent the need may be to consider military action against Iran. Washington has suggested more time should be given for concerted diplomacy combined with sanctions pressure to produce a peaceful solution.

But with Obama recently installed in his second term, and Netanyahu in his third, the allies have publicly closed ranks. The United States projects more defense aid for Israel after the current disbursements of some $3 billion a year expire in 2017. And Hagel unveiled the planned sale to Israel of missiles, warplane radars, troop transport planes and refueling jets.

“These decisions underscore that the military-to-military cooperation between the U.S. and Israel is stronger than ever, and that defense cooperation will only continue to deepen in the future,” Hagel said.

By contrast, the Bush administration in 2008 declined to provide Israel with refueling tankers and missiles that might be used in a strike on Iran.

MILITARY OPTIONS REMAIN ON TABLE

Before taking the helm at the Pentagon, Hagel had stirred ire among pro-Israel Americans for remarks including skepticism about the feasibility and desirability of such military action.

But in Israel, the second foreign country he has visited as defense secretary after Afghanistan, Hagel hewed to Obama's line. “All military options and every option must remain on the table in dealing with Iran,” he said.

“I support the president's position on Iran. And it's very simple and I have stated it here … Our position is Iran will not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon – the prevention of Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Period.”

Iranian media reported on Monday that Iran and officials from the United Nations nuclear watchdog would hold a new round of talks on May 21 in Vienna. The International Atomic Energy Agency wants inspectors to restart a long-stalled investigation in Iran's suspected atomic bomb research.

From Israel, Hagel travels to Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The latter two Gulf Arab countries, which are also wary of Iran's nuclear ambitions, stand to win a major U.S. arms sale.

After lengthy disagreement, Israeli and U.S. estimates of when Iran might be able to produce a first nuclear weapon now largely dovetail to a time frame of about a year.

Hagel also said that non-military pressure on Iran has yet to be exhausted. “The sanctions on Iran are as potent and deep and wide a set of international sanctions that we have ever seen on any country. And those will continue to increase,” he said.

“Whether it leads to an outcome that we desire remains to be seen … and as I said, the military option is always an option.”

After the news conference, Hagel boarded an Israeli military helicopter for an aerial tour of the Golan Heights frontier.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

Former IDF chief Ya’alon: West can hit all of Iran’s nukes


The West could carry out a military strike on any of Iran’s nuclear facilities, former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon said.

Ya’alon, the country’s deputy prime minister and minister of strategic affairs, told the 2012 Herzliya Conference Thursday that all of Iran’s nuclear facilities are within striking range.

“Any facility defended by a human being can be penetrated,” he said. “Any facility in Iran can be hit, and I speak from experience as the IDF chief of staff.”

Ya’alon added that “the West has the ability to strike, but as long as Iran isn’t convinced that there’s a determination to follow through with it, they’ll continue with their manipulations.”

The Wall Street Journal last week cited American military officials as saying that they did not have arms strong enough to penetrate all of Iran’s nuclear installations.

Ya’alon did not discount the idea that international sanctions could serve as a deterrent against an Iranian nuclear attack.

Earlier Thursday, Israel’s director of military intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, told the conference that Iran has enough enriched uranium to produce four nuclear bombs and that Israel is threatened by some 200,000 missiles at any moment.

Ya’alon: Pressure can convince Iran to halt nuclear program


Israel’s strategic affairs minister expressed confidence that international pressure could force Iran to halt its nuclear program.

Moshe Ya’alon, speaking in New York at a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the West needed to force Tehran to choose between the survival of its regime and the pursuit of its nuclear ambitions.

“It is not too late to put this regime in such a dilemma,” said Ya’alon, a member of the governing Likud Party who previously served as Israel’s army chief of staff.

Ya’alon said that if confronted with such a choice, the Iranian regime would opt for its survival. As evidence, he cited what he characterized as Iran’s 2003 decision to suspend its nuclear program for two years out of fear of the United States following the invasion of Iraq.

Ya’alon called for a combination of international diplomatic pressure, “crippling” economic sanctions, support for Iran’s internal opposition and a “credible military option.”

New European and American sanctions should be implemented “without hesitation,” he said, even if they lead to higher oil prices. Ya’alon also said that the Iranian regime needed to be convinced that there was a political will “to go all the way” with a military option, and that ultimately this would help avoid needing to actually use the option.

He referred to Iran’s government as a “messianic, apocalyptic regime” and said the country is the main generator of the conflict across the region.

Ya’alon, who had been meeting in previous days with Obama administration officials, said that in areas where there had been disagreement between the two countries regarding the Iranian nuclear issue, there now is “no daylight.”

Ya’alon also expressed concerns over the recent electoral successes of Islamists in the wake of the so-called “Arab Spring.”

He said that while it is in Israel’s interest to have more democracies in the region, democratization needed to take place via education rather than by elections.

Ya’alon criticized those who are “looking for instant peace and now instant democracy.”