Boston, MA -- (SBWIRE) -- 07/03/2012 -- With Iran scheduled to hold talks about its nuclear programme with the P5+1 group of countries (which comprises the five UN security council members plus Germany) on April 13-14, the Israeli government was waiting to see whether a diplomatic solution could be agreed that would give Israel sufficient security guarantees to enable it to hold back from striking Iran militarily.
By early April 2012, the momentum appeared to be shifting away from imminent military action. The United States government was clearly lukewarm about backing strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities, with sanctions against Iran starting to bite. A leading Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, reported that a strike on Iran would not now occur during 2012 due partly to the lack of international backing and also to questions over the ability of air strikes to do significant damage to Iran's hardened nuclear facilities. US officials also leaked a story to the press in early April claiming that Israel had reached an agreement with Azerbaijan enabling it to use Azeri airbases to attack Iran as part of a US$1.6bn arms sale to Baku, announced in March. This was interpreted as an attempt by the US government to undermine Israeli plans for military action.
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However, in March US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reaffirmed the US' commitment to ensuring Israel's military superiority in the region, outlining a US$3.1bn military aid package for 2012. The Pentagon later announced that it would contribute US$205mn to help Israel purchase additional Iron Dome missile defence batteries, prompting Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, to welcome Washington's demonstration of 'commitment to Israel's security', despite tensions between the US and Israeli administrations.
Israel has been fast improving its missile defence systems. During several days of violence in the Gaza strip sparked off by an Israeli air strike in March, Iron Dome intercepted 79% of the 200 rockets fired from Gaza - a result that exceeded expectations. Israel's fourth Iron Dome battery was declared operational by manufacturer Rafael in April. Meanwhile, the country's third Arrow battery - a system designed to intercept ballistic missiles - was expected to come online at about the same time.
The country's security outlook also improved somewhat with a report to the cabinet by senior Israel Air Force officers in April, in which they said that a co-ordinated and sustained missile attack on Israel by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas in response to an Israeli attack on Iran would only result in around 300 Israeli casualties - lower than previous estimates.
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