A moment before the Olmert government leaves office, coincidently or not, American television network CBS breaks the fascinating story of the Israel Air Force attack on an Iranian weapons convoy in Sudan. If Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's detractors say his legacy is in a failed war (Lebanon) and a problematic one (Gaza) and in not bringing kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit home, here is the response: A series of decisions, some of which are known through foreign reports only, show Olmert's willingness to risk approving distant and covert operations, including the attack on the Syrian nuclear facility and the destruction of Hezbollah's Iranian Fajr missiles on the first night of the Second Lebanon War and, according to foreign reports, the attack on Sudan and the assassinations of senior Hezbollah figure Imad Mughniyeh and Syrian general Mohammed Suleiman.
Although Israel did not officially repond to the CBS report, Olmert's remark Thursday that "we act everywhere we can hit terror infrastructure, close and less close," can be seen an unofficial confirmation of the report.
If a decision was made to risk an attack 1,400 kilometers away, apparently it was due to a belief that Iran was about to inject a significant quantity of arms into Gaza, possibly 70-kilometer-range Fajr rockets.
Iran learned from the Sudan strike that Israel has excellent intelligence, and that it can, and will take the gamble of carrying out long-range strikes when the prize seems high enough. But Iran already knew that. The Sudan strike, if it indeed occurred, conveyed a deterrent message to Tehran, although it still a long way to assuming that Israel can destroy Iran's nuclear program. That would require wave after wave of bombers against a large number of sites, most of which are deep underground.
Former IAF commander Eitan Ben-Eliyahu said Thursday the main difficulty in such an attack is precise intelligence. Getting there requires a flight of about two and a half hours, presumably on a southerly flight path along the Red Sea coast, below Saudi and Egyptian radar and with aerial refueling.
Although the media responded enthusiastically to the strike, security officials said Thursday that it cannot be compared with the one against the Syrian facility.
The presumed strike cost Israel in terms of revealing its intelligence capabilities. It may be assumed that Tehran launched an investigation after the strike to discover how intelligence about the convoy reached Israel. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine that Tehran will give up on future missions. The Hamas project in Gaza is too important to it.
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