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Closing The Ring On Iran

Brig.Gen.(res.) Uzi Eilam: "Iran Still Does Not Have Required Capability For Building Atomic Bomb"

IsraCast Assessment: U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen's Visit Likely To Reassure Israel's Military & Political Leaders That America Means Business & Israel Is Not Alone In Facing Iranian Nuclear Threat

Iranian missiles (photo: MEHR)

 By enriching uranium from 3% to 20%, Iran appears to have startled most of the international community into finally believing that her ultimate goal is to acquire nuclear weapons. However China, which can cast a veto in the UN Security Council against stiffer sanctions, is still holding out. Amid the mounting tension, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will be flying to Moscow to discuss the situation with Russian leaders, while U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen flies to Israel. Meanwhile Brig.Gen.(res.) Uzi Eilam, a former top Israeli nuclear official, has contended that although Iran's move was dramatic, the Iranians apparently still do not have the required capability to build an atomic bomb.

 Waiting for China-that's the next stage in closing the ring of sanctions around Iran. France says this is crucial if the UN Security Council is to impose a new and stiffer set of sanctions on Tehran. This week, the Iranians officially announced and promptly executed what amounts to their 'breaking out' into the production of nuclear weapons. It is the sole rational explanation for the Iranian move to escalate their nuclear enrichment from 3% to 20% . President Ahmadenijad has declared: "Iran is already a nuclear power and has the capability of enriching to 80%!" This is not idle bluster - the Israeli intelligence assessment is that the Iranians have long past the point of no return when it comes to uranium enrichment and can, if they decide, reach the 93% enrichment required for a nuclear weapon. So after years of being in denial, most of the international community and all of the Free World are finally convinced that Iran is determined to get the bomb. Note that Iran's neighbors and most of the Arab world are not applauding a sister Islamic state's progress to nuclear weapons capability. On the contrary, with the exception of Syria, countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the the Gulf states are now engaged in a mounting Shiite-Sunni confrontation with Shiite Iran that is bent on acquiring hegemony over the entire Islamic world.

In Washington, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs discounted Ahmadinejad's statement by quipping: "It is based more on politics than on physics". For his part, President Obama warned that the latest Iranian step has lent a greater sense of urgency for the need of more 'significant sanctions' against Tehran. Obama has the backing of the U.S. Congress and also of the European Union where British Prime Minister Brown, French President Sarkozy, German Chancellor Merkel and Italian President Berlusconi are leading the pack. Even the Russians, with a nuclear Iran looming in their own back yard, are now taking seriously those pesky, 'unproven allegations' that the Iranians are really closing in on acquiring nuclear weapons. Russian Foreign Minister Segey Lavrov has even seen fit to warn Tehran that it is risking international isolation. On his upcoming visit to Moscow, this time open and official, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will have an opportunity at first hand to present Israel's concerns to Russian leaders Putin and Medvedev. Russia, as does China, maintains big business interests with Iran and until now has resisted new sanctions. Not only can Netanyahu be expected to urge Russia's leadership to support sanctions in the Security Council, but he will also seek a Russian suspension of the sale of advanced S-300 surface to air missiles that Tehran wants to protect her nuclear facilities from an air strike. (The Israeli leader made a secret visit to Russia several months ago that was inadvertently leaked to the Israeli media).

There will also be highly sensitive Israeli consultations on Iran coming up with U.S Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mullen and the U.S. defense establishment have tended to oppose the idea of a preemptive military strike against Iran, primarily because American forces are overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, an Israeli attack, would play havoc with U.S. interests which Iran has threatened to hit, even if Israel 'goes it alone'. Recently, the U.S. has tried to placate the Iranian concerns of the Gulf states by beefing up their missile defenses. It could be that Admiral Mullen might also propose closer U.S.- Israeli military ties to reassure the Jewish state that she is not alone in the face of the Iranian threat to wipe her off the map. (Ahmadenijad has expanded this threat by telling Syrian President Bashar Assad that if war breaks out between Syria and Israel, Iran will join in to accomplish the objective). In any case, the visit by Admiral Mullen calls to mind the dramatic arrival of U.S. diplomat Larry Eagleburger during Desert Storm in 1991, when Iraq's Saddam Hussein was pummeling Israel with Scud missiles. Desperate to prevent Israel from retaliating and upsetting Arab members of the U.S. coalition against Iraq, Eagleburger pressured Israel to absorb the Scuds and not to strike back. Eagleburger persuaded the then Prime Minister Yitzak Shamir that this was both in American and Israeli interests and offered batteries of Patriot surface to air missiles to intercept the incoming Scuds. However, former Defense Minister Moshe Arens recently disclosed that the Patriots failed to take out even one of the 39 Scuds that landed in Israel. On the contrary, the Patriots actually added to the considerable collateral damage by falling back down, mainly in the Tel Aviv vicinity.

The Iranian Missile Range

In any case, the U.S. is obviously aware that the Jewish state is likely to be more jittery after the Iranian 'break out' in uranium enrichment. It has been mooted in the past, that in order to stay Israel's hand, the U.S. might consider a declaration that an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel would be considered as an attack on the U.S., with the obvious consequences. In line with this thinking, some Israeli analysts note that U.S. Polaris submarines with a nuclear capability are stationed within range of Iran. Foreign reports have also speculated that Israeli subs may also be deployed within striking distance. Obviously, the Iranian leadership is aware of this and knows full well that a nuclear strike on Israel would wreak untold devastation on Iran. Ipso facto, Israel can sit tight even if Obama fails to prevent Iran from getting the bomb; Israel could wait quietly with the rest of the international community for the Green movement to topple the despised regime. This theory is based on the assumption that the Iranian leadership is both sane and rational something that remains to be seen. Nor does it provide an answer to the possibility of Iran supplying its surrogates such as Hamas and Hezbollah with 'dirty' bombs for attacking the Jewish state. Then there's the doomsday scenario - on the verge of its being ousted by the Iranian people, the regime would launch a nuclear strike against Israel knowing full well she would retaliate by devastating Iran and thereby justly punish the Iranian people that was leading to the regime's demise. But the Israeli school of thought that argues against Israel ever going it alone contends that the Shiite fanatics view the destruction of Israel as only the first stage. In their eyes, Judaism is Christianity's vanguard in the Middle East which must be wiped out and then the war will begin against Christianity, Islam's real and most dangerous foe.

On the way, Iran will topple the corrupt Arab regimes and then dominate the entire Moslem world for this 'war of all wars'. But is this known or accepted in the corridors of power or in think tanks? The problem is, as noted by Professor Bernard Lewis, is that many Middle East experts, strategic analysts and top advisers in high places have never taken the time or trouble to learn Farsi or Arabic and are out of touch with the mindset of the Iranian leadership or Muslim fanatics. For his part, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has trod cautiously in reacting to the latest Iranian move that has exposed its ultimate goal. At a meeting with foreign ambassadors to Israel, Netanyahu declared:" Iran is now galloping in her race to develop nuclear weapons and there is a need for crippling sanctions right now!' Nations of the world had to decide if they were serious about neutralizing the Iranian threat. The Israeli leader also called on the ambassadors to convey a request to their governments that they condemn 'the most recent threat by the head of the murderous Iranian regime to annihilate the Jewish state'.

The question is how much closer does the 20% uranium enrichment bring the Iranians to the bomb? Brig.Gen.(res.) Uzi Eilam is the former director of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission and he called the Iranian step:"Dramatic, but there's more than enriched uranium to producing a nuclear weapon". Writing in the Yisrael Hayom daily, the Israeli expert explained that until now the Iranians said they were enriching uranium to 3% for fuel in their nuclear stations. They refused a Russian offer to supply this fuel and also rejected the IAEA proposal to transfer their enriched uranium via Russia to France for preparation in nuclear fuel rods, that are unsuitable for weapons. They claimed that's what their 7,000 centrifuges at the Natanz facility have been doing. According to available assessment, Iran's secret nuclear facility near Qom was designed to operate another 3,000 centrifuges. At present, it was unknown if there are other clandestine sites at work. In Eilam's view, the uranium enrichment to 20% would take a number of months. However, if an Iranian decision were taken to further enrich from 20% to 95% weapons grade uranium this could be accomplished in a shorter time span of even three months.

The estimates were that Iran now has sufficient material to produce one or possibly two atomic bombs. But the estimates were the Iranians do not have enough raw material to produce an entire arsenal of nuclear weapons. Moreover, Eilam contended that building a nuclear warhead for a missile is a 'more complicated story' requiring advanced technology. The Israeli expert concluded: "On the basis of what is known, the Iranians still do not have the necessary capability to build an atomic bomb".

The significance of Eilam's assessment is that there is still time to stop Iran which has been trying to create the impression that 'its game over' and that the world must accept the idea of a nuclear Iran.

David Essing

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