Published: 12.05.06, 19:42
Gates does not rule out nuclear attack on Israel
US defense secretary-designate, testifying at his Senate Foreign
Relations Committee confirmation hearing, says he cannot
guarantee that if Iran possesses nuclear weapons it will not use
them to put Ahmadinejad's threats into action and wipe Israel off
map. However, he says US military attack against Tehran would be
'absolute last resort'
by Yitzhak Benhorin
WASHINGTON – US Defense Secretary-designate Robert Gates provided
Tuesday a gloomy prediction regarding the future of the Middle East.
During his testimony at his Senate Foreign Relations Committee
confirmation hearing to replace Donald H. Rumsfeld, Gates was
asked about Iran's nuclear program and President Ahamdinejad's
threats to wipe Israel off the map.
Gates replied that the Iranian president's threats were serious,
but that there were greater forces in Iran than Ahmadinejad who
are interested in nuclear ability as a power of deterrence
against nuclear countries surrounding them – Pakistan in the
east, Russia in the north, Israel in the west and the United
States in the Persian Gulf.
The senators asked Gates whether he could guarantee that if Iran
possesses nuclear weapons it would not put its threats against
Israel into action.
Gates answered that he did not believe anyone could guarantee
such a thing.
During the hearing, however, Gates stated that he would not
recommend to the president to attack Iran, but only as an
"absolute last resort" and if crucial American interests were
He estimated that an American military operation against Iran
could lead to chemical and biological terror attacks.
"I think that we have seen, in Iraq, that once war is unleashed,
it becomes unpredictable," he said, adding that the consequences
of a military confrontation with Iran could be dramatic.
'Wave of anti-Americanism in Middle East'
He added that while Iran cannot directly attack the Americans, it
had the ability to close the Persian Gulf for oil exports, to
launch a terror campaign in the Middle East and Europe and even
in the US. It's realistic, he said.
An American attack in Iran, Gates said, would not help the US in
Iraq but would rather damage its interests there. The Iranians,
he said, could supply terror groups with weapons for mass
destruction, mainly chemical and biological.
He added that Tehran also had the ability to operate Hizbullah
and undermine the situation in Lebanon .
As for Syria , Gates said a US attack on that country would
unleash a wave of anti-Americanism in the Middle East.
It would have "dramatic consequences for us in Middle East,"
Gates said. "It would give rise to greater anti-Americanism than
we have seen to date. It would immediately complicate our
relations with every country in the region."
'Forces should be left in Iraq'
Gates was chosen by US President George W. Bush to replace Donald
Rumsfeld following the latter's resignation, and many in the US
hope that he will be the person to bring American soldiers back
He admitted that in the current situation, the US was not winning
the war in Iraq, but made it clear that it was not fleeing Iraq
and would withdraw in an organized manner after the Iraqi
government and its security forces are able to control the
situation and defend themselves.
The developments in Iraq in the next two years will influence the
future of the entire Middle East, he said, adding that a strategy
must be developed which will not leave Iraq in chaos and will
give the region hope.
If Iraq is not stabilized in a year or two, the entire Middle
East will be on fire, he said.
He also estimated that even if there is a significant withdrawal
of forces from Iraq in the future, American forces will remain in
the country for many years to provide support for the Iraqi army.
AP contributed to the report
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