UNITED NATIONS - Russia, one of the world's major powers, has warned of "disasterous consequences" if Israel attacked Iran's nuclear facilities.
"If things happen like threats of force and unilateral sanctions outside the framework of the [UN] Security Council, it is distracting from the negotiating process," Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, said when asked to comment on a newspaper report about a large military exercise carried out by Israel this month as a rehearsal for a bombing attack on Iran.
On Saturday, The Washington Post said senior U.S. officials
confirmed that Israel had held a massive operation that involved the types of warplanes, distances and maneuvers required for airstrikes on Iran, a story which was first reported by The New York Times.
"A military move would have devastating consequences for the prospect of resolving the Iranian nuclear issue, for the region and internationally,"The Russian ambassadore added.
The Post said, "The mock (Israeli) operation reflected a growing policy schism over Iran among major international players at a time when U.S. politics may freeze major decisions until a new administration is in place, its officials are confirmed and a policy review is complete."
More than 100 Israeli warplanes - including F-15s and F-16s, refueling tankers and helicopters for pilot rescue - were involved in the military exercise.
Israel refused to comment on the exercise. "The Israeli Air Force regularly trains for various missions in order to confront and meet the challenges posed by the threats facing Israel," the Israel Defence Forces said.
Citing Western officials, The Post said Israel has carried out maneuvers as part of a programme started in the 1990s by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He began acquiring long-range bombers and missiles after warning that Iran's nuclear program threatened Israel's existence."But the latest exercise comes at a tense time, with the standoff in diplomacy fueling divergent strategies", the dispatch said.
The US and other Western countries say that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons, a charge Iran firmly denies. The Islamic Republic insists it's nuclear programme is geared towards peaceful purposes. Israel's exercise sends a signal to Iran and its allies, The Post said.
"It's a way of saying, 'If you're not willing to ratchet up the pressure, you're going to make force more likely, as the current path is not changing Iranian behavior,' " said Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The US presence in Iraq also might be undermined by military action that could provoke an Iranian response, according to The Post.
"I don't think the Pentagon is in the business of scaring the Iranians," said former assistant secretary of state Martin Indyk, now at the Brookings Institution. "They are happy with the way things are going in Iraq and don't want anything to upset the apple cart in a way that will make the surge look problematic."
The soaring price of oil is another constraint on U.S. military action or on prospects that the Bush administration would give Israel a green light to act. "A raid on Iran would convulse the markets," said Robinson West of PFC Energy. "The price would go into uncharted territory. Pick a number. It could easily reach $200."