The United States has asked Russia to warn Iran it has a last chance in negotiations expected in April to avoid military strikes against its nuclear program, a report said on Wednesday.
Russia’s Kommersant daily said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the talks between Iran and world powers were a “last chance” to resolve the crisis.
“She asked her Russian colleague to make this clear to the Iranian authorities” as Washington has no diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic, the newspaper said, according to AFP.
Their discussion took place after Monday’s U.N. Security Council meeting on Syria in New York, it added.
The newspaper said that a precise date and location for the talks is still being decided. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said last month he expected the discussions to start in April at the latest.
The report gave no further details on the kind of military action Tehran faced but it said Russian diplomats at the United Nations believed it was a “matter of when, not if” Israel would strike against Iran.
Israel, as well as its main ally the United States, has repeatedly refused to rule out using force against Iran over its nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at making nuclear weapons, a claim denied by Tehran.
Russia has always warned in public that military action against Iran risked having catastrophic consequences and has said that the crisis must be solved diplomatically.
But Kommersant said the Russian military was now at a state of “mobilized readiness” to protect the country from the knock-on effects of a possible conflict like an influx of refugees into neighboring Azerbaijan.
Israel’s Arrow II ready for Iran’s missiles
Israel, meanwhile, has emerged from the past few days of fighting with Palestinians in Gaza more confident that its advanced missile shield and civil defenses can perform well in any war with Iran.
Describing how the flare-up in violence had provided an impromptu opportunity to test out Israel’s defenses, one Israeli official said on Tuesday it gave useful indicators for any potential conflict with Tehran: “In a sense, this was a mini-drill,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, according to Reuters.
“There are significant differences, of course, but the basic principles regarding the ‘day after’ scenarios are similar,” the official added, alluding to Iran’s threat to respond to any “pre-emptive strike” on its nuclear facilities by firing missiles at Israel.
While Iron Dome is deployed against rockets from Gaza, Israel’s answer to the bigger, ballistic missiles of Iran and Syria is Arrow II, an interceptor that works in a similar way but at far higher altitudes.
After counting 170 incoming missiles from Gaza over four days, Israeli officials said Iron Dome had shot down 77 percent of those it had identified as a threat. The system does not fire on rockets it calculates will land in empty fields. Developers of the Arrow II, which has so far proved itself only in trials, boast a shoot-down rate for that system of some 90 percent.
Uzi Rubin, a veteran of the Arrow program, cautioned, however, against relying too far on such defenses as Iranian missiles, if not intercepted, could wreak far more damage than Gazan rockets, many of which are improvised from drainage pipes.
“We are talking about 750-kg (1,650-lb) warheads, enough to level a city block,” Rubin said, noting there would be a greater impact if Iran’s allies on Israel’s borders -- Syria, Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas, and Palestinian fighters -- joined in.
Yet some Israeli experts see that axis bending to new domestic political pressures, notably after the popular Arab revolts of the past year, which may reduce the extent to which Tehran can count on their support in any conflict with Israel.
Indeed, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has recently predicted that “maybe not even 500” of Israel’s civilians would die in any counter-attack after a strike on Iran.
If it is planning to attack Iran, which denies seeking the bomb while preaching the Jewish state’s destruction, Israel must contend with unprecedented tactical hurdles and the disapproval of the United States -- underwriter of Arrow II and Iron Dome.
Israel would also depend on Washington’s grants for the two projects to bear the lopsided cost of each interception -- between $25,000 and $80,000 for Iron Dome, and $2 million and $3 million for Arrow.