Israel could strike Iran in Spring; Khamenei shrugs sanctions
Published Friday, February 3, 2012
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta believes Israel could strike Iran as early as April, while Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday vowed to press ahead with its nuclear program despite sanctions.
US media on Thursday reported Panetta was increasingly concerned that Israel would launch unilateral military strikes against Iran in a bid to halt its nuclear program.
The Washington Post first reported that Panetta was concerned about the increased likelihood that Israel would launch an attack over the next few months. CNN said it confirmed the report, citing a senior Obama administration official, who declined to be identified.
"Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June – before Iran enters what Israelis described as a 'zone of immunity' to commence building a nuclear bomb," Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote.
"Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon – and only the United States could then stop them militarily," Ignatius wrote.
Ignatius did not cite a source. He was writing from Brussels where Panetta was attending a NATO defense ministers' meeting.
Panetta and the Pentagon both declined to comment on the Post report.
Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei responded to the threat of war by warning that any military attack on Iran would have consequences for the United States.
"Threatening Iran and attacking Iran will harm America," Khamenei told worshipers in a speech broadcast live on state television.
"In response to threats of oil embargo and war, we have our own threats to impose at the right time," he added.
The US and EU imposed tough new sanctions on Iran this year targeting the Islamic republic's oil industry, but have so far failed to win crucial support from Asian powers – the highest recipients of Iranian oil.
But Khamenei insisted sanctions will not deter Iran from pursuing its nuclear program.
"Sanctions will not have any impact on our determination to continue our nuclear course," he said.
Concerning Israel, Iran's Supreme Leader said Tehran would back any group or nation fighting the Jewish state.
"I have no fear of saying that we will back and help any nation or group that wants to confront and fight against the Zionist regime," he said.
Israel – the only Middle Eastern state to possess a nuclear arsenal – has been pressing Western nations to harden their stance against Iran, fearing an Iranian atomic bomb will neutralize its own nuclear deterrent.
The threat of a military confrontation has alarmed world capitals, who fear any strike on Iran would engulf the wider region in the conflict and hinder oil supplies to the world's already fragile economy.
Russia, China and France in recent weeks have each warned against military action against Iran, while the US is believed to be pressing Israel to not launch unilateral strikes on Iran without Washington's approval.