An Indian Air Force plane with an Israeli Phalcon Airborne Warning And Control System mounted on it is one of the latest inductions into the Indian military
Jerusalem, May 23: Bombing Iran is better than an Iran with the Bomb, Israel is telling India, and has sent notice that time is running out despite sanctions and diplomacy.
“We do not speak about weeks (for decisive action) but we don’t speak of years as well,” Israel foreign ministry officials involved in talks with India told The Telegraph during a series of briefings requested by this newspaper.
An Israeli delegation is scheduled to visit New Delhi in June to gauge its views and push India to accept its assessment of Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
Israel is also urging India to shut down a joint venture in which the public sector Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) holds 49 per cent of the shares. The Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) owns 51 per cent in Irano Hind Shipping Company.
The joint venture operates six vessels from India that carry crude and bulk cargo.
Israel’s public insistence that India toe its line on Iran makes officials in South Block squirm. India depends on Iran for oil — though earlier this month minister of state for energy R.P.N. Singh said India was cutting imports from Iran by as much as 11 per cent. India has been Iran’s largest customer of oil.
New Delhi is also worried by the aggressive language over Iran because of the sensitivities of Muslims, particularly Shias.
Tehran will have enriched enough nuclear fuel to develop an atom bomb by the end of the year, the Israeli officials said, quoting from their own studies, reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the International Energy Commission (IEC).
Iran’s nuclear facilities at Natanz in Esfahan province and Fordow near the spiritual centre of Qom had enough centrifuges and enriched uranium to make it military-nuclear capable, Israel has assessed. Natanz is an older facility, while the complex at Fordow in the mountains is assessed to be inside underground bunkers.
Despite the Israel government’s aggressive language, there are voices within that caution against such posturing. Last week, the outgoing chief of the Israeli Air Force, Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, told The Jerusalem Post newspaper in an interview that public discourse on a possible Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities was “exaggerated and damaging”.
But yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “leading nations of the world must show force and clarity, and not weakness” in dealing with Iran.
Netanyahu referred to the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, who said: “The Iranian nation is standing for its cause that is the full annihilation of Israel.”
Earlier this month, Netanyahu (Likud party) brought the Opposition Kadima party into his coalition, giving Israel arguably its most powerful government ever. Ironically, Israel’s government is at its most powerful when all its Arab neighbours — chiefly Egypt and Syria — are dealing with their “Spring” well into two summers.
Caught in the sabre-rattling and the rhetoric, Indian diplomats are hoping that the best-case scenario will be a compromise between Iran and the five permanent members of the Security Council and the IAEA, which concluded talks in Baghdad earlier this week.
But Israel is convinced that India is navigating into a position that will at least allow it to look the other way if not see eye-to-eye in the event of missile strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.
“All options are on the table and the mixture of pressures includes a credible military threat but we see the windows of opportunity for diplomacy closing,” one Israeli official said, referring to a phrase used by US President Barack Obama.
The Israeli officials interpreted India’s pullout from the Asian Clearing Union (ACU) payment mechanism for trade with Iran and the decision to cut imports (announced during US energy envoy Carlos Pascual’s visit last week) as certain signs of New Delhi turning around.
India’s decision to cut oil imports from Iran also coincides with growing military imports from Israel. The one-way Israel-India military trade estimated at more than $10 billion is twice that of bilateral civilian trade.
Israeli officials warn that because Iran has a $9 million trade surplus with India, it could try to buy favour by ploughing some of that amount into investments in India. They are upset that India is also not seeking environmental insurance for ships transporting Iranian oil to it. Iran finds it increasingly difficult to get environmental insurance for its carriers because of sanctions by the European Union.
“I would not want to see India as a transhipment point,” an Israeli official who monitors the sanctions on Iran said. “I do not want to see Iran Air cargo jets offloading borderline technologies in India and put both the Indian government and the Indian private sector at risk. I would urge India to know its customers well,” he said.