Gates warns Israel against Iran attack

By Paul Richter

Tribune Washington Bureau

April 16, 2009


Amid increasing suggestions that Israel might attack Iran's nuclear facilities, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned this week that such a strike would have dangerous consequences, and he asserted that Tehran's acquisition of a bomb can be prevented only if "Iranians themselves decide it's too costly."

Using his strongest language on the subject to date, Gates told a group of Marine Corps students that while a strike probably would delay Tehran's nuclear program from one to three years, it would unify Iran, "cement their determination to have a nuclear program, and also build into the whole country an undying hatred of whoever hits them."

Israeli officials fear that the Islamic Republic may gain the know-how to build a bomb as early as this year, and several of them have warned that Israel could strike first to eliminate what it considers an existential threat.

But while the Obama administration has not ruled out the use of military force, several officials have indicated strong opposition to using it. Last week, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Israel's new conservative prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, would be "ill advised" to launch a strike.

Shimon Peres, Israel's president, said in an interview with Israel's Kol Hai radio Sunday that Israel would attack if the Iranian leadership didn't drop its plans for its nuclear program.

Obama administration officials have said they are ready to try to intensify economic and political sanctions on Iran if diplomacy doesn't work.

Gates told students at Marines Corps University in Quantico, Va., that while President Barack Obama "needs the full range of options," in his view "we need to look at every way we can to increase the cost of that program to them, whether it's through economic sanctions or other things."

Iran responded this week to the Israeli declarations, asking the United Nations to intervene to stop the threats.

Israeli officials probably would seek the cooperation and approval of their American allies before carrying out any such strike, experts say.