Israel National News
by Gil Ronen

As two Israeli missile-class warships joined a navy submarine in the Red Sea, an Israeli defense source made it clear that the moves are intended as a threatening message to Iran.

“This is preparation that should be taken seriously,” the unnamed source told the London Times. “Israel is investing time in preparing itself for the complexity of an attack on Iran.”

“These maneuvers are a message to Iran that Israel will follow up on its threats,” he emphasized.

The exercises “come at a time when Western diplomats are offering support for an Israeli strike on Iran in return for Israeli concessions on the formation of a Palestinian state,” the Times said. It quoted an nanonymous British official as saying that if the deal completed, it would make an Israeli strike on Iran realistic “within the year.”

Diplomats said that Israel had offered concessions “on settlement policy, Palestinian land claims and issues with neighboring Arab states, to facilitate a possible strike on Iran. “ A senior European diplomat, also unnamed, said that “Israel has chosen to place the Iranian threat over its settlements.”

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a news conference Wednesday that the ships passed through the canal with Egypt’s permission, and that “ships may pass through the canal as long as they do not threaten the country which controls the canal.” He noted that the international agreements regulating which ships may pass through the Suez Canal date back to 1888.

The two Saar-class ships, INS Eilat and INS Chanit, sailed into the Red Sea Wednesday in what was the report described as “a clear signal that Israel was able to put its strike force within range of Iran at short notice.”

Ten days earlier, a Dolphin-class submarine with nuclear-missile strike capabilities passed through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea as well. Later reports said it, too, was accompanied by two Israeli missile boats – meaning that four missile boats have now crossed the canal. Israel has six Dolphin-class submarines, three of which are believed to carry nuclear missiles, the Times said.

Later this month, the Israel Air Force will hold long-range exercises in the U.S. and will test a missile defense shield at a U.S. missile range in the Pacific Ocean.

While local Israeli media have played up alleged tensions between Egypt and Israel over past statements by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the Times report says that Israel “has strengthened ties with Arab nations who also fear a nuclear-armed Iran” and quotes an Israeli diplomat who said that relations with Egypt, in particular, have grown increasingly strong this year over the “shared mutual distrust of Iran.”

The report estimates that Israel’s missile-equipped submarines and its fleet of advanced aircraft could simultaneously strike at more than a dozen nuclear-related targets in Iran.

The Arrow interceptor system that will be tested in the Pacific is designed to defend Israel from ballistic missile attacks by Iran and Syria. According to Lt.-Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, Director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, this month’s test will be against a target with a range of more than 1,000km. This range is too long for testing in the eastern Mediterranean, where Israel held its previous tests of the Arrow.

The Israeli Air Force, meanwhile, will send F16C fighter jets to participate in exercises at Nellis Air Force base in Nevada later this month, and Israeli C130 Hercules transport aircraft will participate in the Rodeo 2009 competition at the McChord Air Force base in Washington.

“It is not by chance that Israel is drilling long-range maneuvers in a public way. This is not a secret operation. This is something that has been published and which will showcase Israel’s abilities,” an Israeli defense official said.