- - Wednesday, November 2, 2011

JERUSALEM — Israeli defense officials on Wednesday announced the successful test-firing of a new ballistic missile and a recent air force exercise that included refueling for long-range flights, amid growing talk about an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Officials said Wednesday’s missile test and last week’s air force exercise in Sardinia were planned long ago and had nothing to do with recent media speculation about an attack on the Islamic republic’s atomic sites.

But the announcements — and foreign reports that the new missile can carry an atomic warhead and hit Iran — highlight the Israeli government’s debate over the Islamic republic, which has emerged into public view in recent days.

The Ha’aretz newspaper reported Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to muster the majority of his inner Cabinet to support a pre-emptive attack on Iran.

The newspaper said he and Defense Minister Ehud Barak had persuaded Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who initially opposed such an attack, to support it.

Four Cabinet ministers oppose an attack. They include Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon, a former chief of staff and a political hard-liner whose objections carry particular weight, the newspaper reported.

Mr. Ya’alon reportedly maintains that the U.S. should take the lead in any military move against Iran and that a unilateral Israeli attack should be a last resort.

Last week, Interior Minister Eli Yishai told activists in his religious Shas Party that Israel is weighing a “possible action” that is keeping him awake at night. Retaliation for that action, Mr. Yishai said, could result in tens of thousands of rockets and missiles fired by Iran’s allies — Hezbollah, Hamas and possibly Syria — as well as Iran itself.

Mr. Netanyahu last week called on the patron of the Shas Party, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, reportedly to persuade him to support an attack.

Addressing the Knesset this week, Mr. Netanyahu said a nuclear Iran would be a grave threat to the region, the world “and, of course, a grave threat to us.”

Mr. Barak, the defense minister, said: “We’re not hiding our thoughts. We have to act in every way possible, and no options should be taken off the table.”

Public speculation about a strike on Iran is unusual for Israel, which has cloaked its past military moves in a veil of secrecy. No public talk preceded Israel’s 1981 airstrike on Iraq’s nuclear reactor or its 2007 strike on a suspected atomic facility in Syria.

By contrast, nearly every Israeli newspaper in recent weeks has carried reports by its military correspondents suggesting that Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak are pushing for an attack on Iran.

This has given rise to speculation that Israel’s leaders are trying to persuade the international community to impose more sanctions on Iran to forestall a unilateral Israeli attack.

Meanwhile, the British daily newspaper the Guardian reported Wednesday that Britain’s armed forces are preparing contingency plans to support a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Story Continues →