by David Harris
JERUSALEM, Sept. 30 (Xinhua) -- Thursday sees the start of a historic process with potentially earth-shattering consequences as Iran begins official talks with six world powers about its nuclear program.
It is a process that for now is expected to be limited to three months. If it does not produce results that satisfy Israel, the Jewish state could, in the eyes of some analysts, well be tempted to attack Iran's nuclear facilities.
ESTIMATING CHANCES OF SUCCESS
Six countries negotiating with Iran about its nuclear program hope the negotiations will end positively, without the need for a fresh round of sanctions. All seven governments are putting some form of positive spin on the talks.
"We, as the representatives of the Iranian nation, strongly support the talks within the framework of the Islamic Republic of Iran's package of proposals," a group of 239 Iranian lawmakers were quoted as saying by Tehran Times on Wednesday.
However, in Israel there is a distinct pessimism about the chances of success for the talks.
Menashe Amir, who heads Israel Radio's Persian Service for a quarter of a century, said "The Iranians will continue with their foot-dragging policy and I don't think these talks will lead anywhere."
If nothing is achieved by the end of the year -- the deadline set by some of Iran's interlocutors, Israel will then have to ask itself what it should do.
Israel is convinced that Iran is in the midst of a nuclear-weapons program, something Iran has always denied. Tehran insists that its nuclear plan is only for peaceful purposes. In recent years, all Israeli governments have said a nuclear Iran is unacceptable.
The international community generally believes Israel has a plan up its sleeve, but thus far Israel has remained stony silent about its options.
Israel's hand is fairly limited. If fresh sanctions are imposed in the new year, the United States is expected to demand Israel not attack Iran while the effectiveness of the measures is judged.
However, if Israel remains convinced that Iran is going down the path of building a nuclear arsenal, it will not matter whether the sanctions lead to Iran's agreement to allow international inspectors to its nuclear installations.
Israel will simply have to decide whether it is going to attack Iran.
While stressing he has no knowledge of Israel's plans, Amir points out that Israel has always lived up to the mantra that if its existence is challenged it will fight to defend itself.
Israel has not always waited until attacked before striking out. More relevant are Israel's actions in 1981. The country sent fighter jets over Iraq, where they destroyed the Osirak nuclear facility.
The situation in Iran is far more complex. The world learned last week of another nuclear facility -- at its northwestern city of Qom, but some believe Iran has more nuclear facilities. The San Francisco Chronicle, The Media Line news agency and others have reported over the past five years on the plethora of nuclear sites Iran is said to have.
If such claims are true the mission that Israel would have to undertake would be incredibly complicated and require pinpointed simultaneous strikes at numerous locations around Iran.
The United Arab Emirates-based military analyst Theodore Karasik believes Iran will not capitulate in the talks and Israel will launch an attack sooner or later.
That strike would be led by the Israel Air Force with possible backup from the navy, said Karasik, who is Director for Research and Development at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
Israel has the capability to hit numerous targets, he said, adding that the key question is whether Israel would be allowed to fly towards Iran directly or indirectly.
Assuming Israel was to successfully complete such a mission, in which it would use American-made bunker-busting bombs, its military planners would then have to consider any Iranian response.
Amir believes Iran would retaliate but that its missiles are not as sophisticated as Tehran would have the world believe and that its air force is weak.
Karasik also thinks Iran would strike back, but not only at Israeli targets. Iran, he said, would make the case that the United States was involved, whether arguing American pilots were on board Israeli jets or simply saying that Israel utilized American planes and missiles.
In the short term, Iran would close off the Strait of Hormuz for some 10 days, purely as a protest, but that act would help no one, including the Iranians, Karasik argued.
Tehran would also likely to fire missiles or some other asymmetrical weapons with limited success.
A WARNING TO THINK TWICE
It is the longer-term response that is more troubling, Karasik said.
Israeli interests would be attacked anywhere in the world, but if Tehran was to accuse the Americans or anyone else of involvement in the strikes, they could expect retaliatory action during the subsequent eight to 10 months, he suggested.
The other option for Israel is simply not to attack. Its leaders could think that eventually another Western nation would opt for that route, or they may simply say to themselves, "we have our own nuclear deterrent and we will have to learn to live with another nuclear power in the region."
This type of talk should be the preferred option, according to Shafeeq Ghabra, a professor of political science at Kuwait University.
Israel not only has conventional military superiority in the Middle East, but is widely suspected to possess nuclear weapons, including land, air and sea three-dimensional nuclear strike capability. Israeli government neither confirms nor denies its military nuclear capacity as a matter of policy.
"Attacking Iran will only add to the vengeance and radicalization in the region. Methods of counter attack are not that hard with modern technology. No one is safe," Ghabra told Xinhua.
He links the Iranian issue to that of the Israeli-Palestinian. Should Israel reach a peace deal with the Palestinians that would go a long way towards calming the region, Ghabra said.
However, that type of connection is dismissed by Israel. It points to statements made by Iran calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, something Tehran has preferred without linkage to the Palestinian question.
All of this leaves the leaders of six world powers hoping that October's talks with Iran will produce positive results that will lead to a calming of the waters.