Israel 'prepared for 30-day war with Iran' - but will it attack?
As Israelis queue for gas masks, observers say Israeli is trying to put pressure on the US
ISRAEL is prepared for a 30-day war with Iran that could leave as many as 500 dead, the country's home front defence minister Matan Vilnai has said.
The minister, who is stepping down from his current role to become ambassador to China, has told the Israeli newspaper Maariv that Israel is "ready as never before" should it have to go to war with Iran.
Vilnai's comments add to growing speculation that Israel is planning a unilateral attack on Iran's nuclear programme, says The Daily Telegraph. Israel is unconvinced by Iran's claims that its nuclear programme is for civilian purposes and believes it is building nuclear weapons that would put Israel in danger.
According to Vilnai, Israel expects an attack on Iran's nuclear sites would spark a 30-day war with missile attacks on Israel's cities and leaving around 500 citizens dead.
"It could be that there will be less fatalities, but it could be there will be more, that is the scenario that we are preparing for according to the best experts," he said.
Several commentators have pointed out that a strike by Israel might only delay Iran's nuclear programme rather than prevent it altogether. But Michael Oren, Israeli ambassador to the US, has told Bloomberg that Israel would be willing to strike even if it only delayed Iran's ability to produce nuclear weapons for a few years.
Israeli citizens appear to be taking Vilnai's comments seriously, with many queuing for up to two hours to collect gas masks. One Israeli man, waiting in line at a gas mask distribution centre, told Bloomberg: "Our leaders seem to have gotten very hawkish in their speeches and this time it seems they mean what they say."
But others believe Israel's "saber-rattling" is part of a campaign to pressurise the US and the international community rather than an indication of an imminent Israeli strike, says The New York Times.
This theory is buttressed by comments from Uzi Dayan, a former Israeli national security adviser. He told the newspaper that Israel's prime minister and defence minister had told him this week that they had not yet decided to attack Iran's nuclear facilities and could be dissuaded from a strike if President Obama approved stricter sanctions and publicly confirmed his willingness to use military force against Iran.
US defence secretary Leon Panetta also said earlier this week that Washington did not believe Israel had yet made a decision on whether or not to launch the strike, as reported in The Guardian.
Vilnai declined to comment on Panetta's statement, but added: "The United States is our greatest friend and we will always have to co-ordinate such moves with it."