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Confrontation escalates between Iran and Israel

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The exercise was a signal to Iran, Pentagon officials said, that Israel was capable of striking Iran's nuclear facilities. US warships and allied navies wrapped up a five-day oil protection exercise in the Persian Gulf this week and President Bush has not ruled out military action against Iran.

Heyman put the chances of war at 20 percent before the Israeli air force exercise, then pushed it to 30 percent after. Though Iran's missiles are not believed to have pinpoint accuracy, the missile test moved the chances of war higher, he figures, to 40 percent.

"They look good and they sound good," Heyman says, but without a nuclear or biological warhead "they are no more capable, and no more of a major threat to Israel than Saddam Hussein's SCUDs. They were a threat of sorts, but were not going to bring down the Israeli state."

That view is echoed by Uzi Rubin, the former head of Israel's antiballistic missile program.

"The photographs released today indicate that they fired old Shahab missiles, the kinds they launched in 1998," says Mr. Rubin. "I think that the main consumer for this launch is the Iranians themselves…. Why should we respond? What is really new here? This is just saber rattling."

The tests come against a backdrop of increasingly incendiary rhetoric from all sides but also signals of moderation and willingness to negotiate.

"We warn the enemies who intend to threaten us with military exercises and empty psychological operations that our hand will always be on the trigger and our missiles will always be ready to launch," Iran's Revolutionary Guard air forces commander, Gen. Hossein Salami, said Wednesday.

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