STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
Israel Ready to Strike Iran?
By - January 14, 2009

Informed sources in Washington tell Newsmax that Israel indeed will launch a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities soon – possibly in just days as President George W. Bush prepares to leave office. The reason: The time clock has begun to run out. Iran is close to acquiring a nuclear device under the control of its radical president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei said in June that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in as little as six months. That six-month period has passed. Reports of Israel's decision to imminently launch strikes, although unconfirmed, would seem to contradict the Bush stance outlined in a front-page New York Times story last week, which asserted that Bush rejected a plea from Israel last year to help it raid Iran's main nuclear complex. – NewsMax

Dominant Social Theme: Armageddon on the way.

Free-Market Analysis: We're not sure what to make of this one. We thought the pump-priming for an Iranian war had slowed. No more build-up, no more almost daily reports about the insanity of the Iranian mullahs or the rapid expansion of their nuclear program. But now comes Newsmax with a bold statement, if unverified, that Israel is about to strike. This is a puzzling report in that the ramifications are so broad – and worrisome too. One wonders why Newsmax has been chosen as the provider of this report – why the leakers decided on them.

Or perhaps there are some other priorities at work, given Newsmax's apparent, systemic insights into US intelligence activities. Even stranger, though, the report did not seem to spawn any others, not of any importance, not throughout the day. There is either a lid on this sort of reporting, or the speculation is so far out there that no one else wants to touch it. But just before we discount the report entirely, we do run into some seemingly legit speculation along the same lines from a non-Western source, "Pakistan Daily."

Are the US & Israel Planning a Broader Middle East War? A very large delivery of US weaponry to Israel consisting of 3,000 tons of "ammunition" is scheduled to sail to Israel. The size and nature of the shipments are described as "unusual": "Shipping 3,000-odd tons of ammunition in one go is a lot," one broker said, on condition of anonymity. "This (kind of request) is pretty rare and we haven't seen much of it quoted in the market over the years," he added. "Shipping brokers in London who have specialized in moving arms for the British and U.S. military in the past said such ship charters to Israel were rare. (Reuters, Jan 10, 2009) The Pentagon has entrusted a Greek merchant shipping company to deliver the weapons to Israel: "The U.S. is seeking to hire a merchant ship to deliver hundreds of tons of arms to Israel from Greece later this month, tender documents seen by Reuters show. The U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command (MSC) said the ship was to carry 325 standard 20-foot containers of what is listed as "ammunition" on two separate journeys from the Greek port of Astakos to the Israeli port of Ashdod in mid-to-late January. A "hazardous material" designation on the manifest mentions explosive substances and detonators, but no other details were given.(Ibid)

The Pakistan Daily article – and let us state for the record that we have no idea of its accuracy – goes on to explain that the shipments now headed over to Israel are emphatically not involved in the current action in Gaza, for they would have been delivered earlier in that case. They are meant for something else. And the writers emphasize several times that reports the Bush administration indicated to Israel that a strike was out of the question are not necessarily to be taken at face value.

Israel and the US have always acted in close coordination. Washington does not "demand that Israel give them prior notice" of a military operation: … Israel is America's ally. Military operations are closely coordinated. Israel does not act without Washington's approval and the US does not shoot down the planes of its closest ally. These unusually large shipments of ordinance would normally require Congressional approval. To our knowledge, there is no public record of approval of the unusually large shipments of heavy "ammunition" to Israel. The nature and composition of the shipments are not known. Was Israel's request for the delivery of the 2.2 ton GBU 28 accepted by Washington, bypassing the US Congress? Are GBU 28 bombs, each of which weighs 2.2 tons part of the 3000 ton shipments to Israel. Are tactical bunker buster mini-nuclear bombs included in Israel's arsenal? These are questions to be raised in the US Congress. The two shipments of "ammunition" are slated to arrive in Israel, respectively no later than the 25th and 31st of January. Secretary Robert Gates who remains at the helm of the Department of Defense ensures continuity in the military agenda.

We're inclined to believe that there is more mayhem planned for the Middle East; certainly there is more that COULD be done – "could" being the operative word. But we are not so sure that Israel will go ahead and start other missions just because Barack Obama is taking office in the United States. This seems to us to be a fairly naïve assessment of the situation, given the decades of institutional American support for Israel and the way that Obama has left much of the military brass intact.

After Thoughts

A war in the Middle East that pits Iran and Syria against Israel would not of itself be an earth-shaking event; in fact it could be over quickly. But if, on the other hand, it involved Russia, and then perhaps China – also an ally of Iran's – and thus dragged in the United States and Europe, well then you are talking about something far graver. Who knows how these things evolve?

So how do we figure all this out? If the Mideast is really going to be subject to a much wider war, then we think precious metals will tell the tale. Gold was up about US$3 according to Bloomberg on Monday. No big signal there. Not yet anyway. We'll keep a close watch, though.

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