Israel waits for world to wake up as Iran blocks inspectors

By Anshel Pfeffer, February 23, 2012
"Israeli interests unique": Gen Dempsey

"Israeli interests unique": Gen Dempsey

The refusal of the Iranian government to grant the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors access to some of the country's nuclear plants will bolster the arguments of the Israeli faction, headed by Defence Minister Ehud Barak, that argue that diplomacy and sanctions will not deter the Tehran regime from achieving its nuclear ambitions.

Senior American officials visited Israel this week in an attempt to persuade the government to give diplomatic pressure a further chance before embarking on a military strike against Iran.

The Iranian Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said earlier this week that he looked forward to engaging the international community on talks over his country's nuclear programme.

However, the IAEA delegation returned from Tehran after only two days of talks, frustrated at the Iranian refusal to provide access to Parchin, a site where Western intelligence services believe that research into nuclear weapons is being carried out.

Herman Nackaerts, the head of the IAEA team, said that they "could not find a way forward."

Brinksmanship has begun: the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, currently patrolling the Strait of Hormuz

Brinksmanship has begun: the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, currently patrolling the Strait of Hormuz

The failed IAEA mission came following meetings in Israel between the US National Security Adviser, Tom Donilon, and Israeli leaders. James Clapper, the director US National Intelligence, is also scheduled to visit Israel soon.

According to a White House spokesman, Mr Donilon urged his Israeli counterparts to give the new sanctions on Iran time to have an impact. Iran will also be at the top at the agenda at the March 5 meeting in Washington between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The flurry of meetings is a result of the mounting concern in Washington that Israel is close to making a decision to launch attacks on Iran.

General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, who visited Israel himself last month, said over the weekend in an interview with CNN that the two countries disagree over the best way to confront Iran.

Gen Dempsey said that Israel's leaders "understand our concerns that a strike at this time would be destabilising and wouldn't achieve their long-term objectives", but he also understood "that Israel has national interests that are unique to them. And, of course, they consider Iran to be an existential threat in a way that we have not concluded that Iran is an existential threat."

The American officials believe that Mr Barak is leading the faction within Israel's political and security establishments that is pushing for an attack on Iran's nuclear installations before the Iranians have time to move more of their uranium enrichment facilities into underground reinforced bunkers, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not yet decided on the timing of an attack.

Last updated: 2:04pm, February 23 2012