Israeli security experts were unsurprised by a statement made by Admiral Mike Mullen, head of the US military Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told
CNN on Sunday that he believed Iran
has enough fissile material to make a nuclear bomb.
"Although we were unfamiliar with the American military's estimates, our estimates are not far from theirs," said Dr. Ephraim Asculai, a senior researcher at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies.
"We all agree that the Iranians have the systems; the only question is the timetables," he told Ynet. "If they don’t have the ability to create a nuclear bomb today or tomorrow, they'll have one in a few months."
According to Asculai, Israeli researchers are fed by official reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that the Iranians have yet to enrich enough uranium for a bomb, but that they are not far from that stage.
"The uranium produced by the Iranians today is not good enough for a nuclear bomb. And in any event, I believe that even if Iran has reached an amount of high quality uranium which would be enough for one bomb, it won't start creating it immediately. It will have to produce a slather of uranium before creating bombs."
Asculai refused to refer to the reliability of the American estimates, but admitted that he was not concerned by the differences compared to the Israeli estimates.
"The differences may derive from the fact that the Americans have different intelligence sources than the IAEA, but from what we know, they don't have enough information."
Could it be that the IAEA investigators are being deceived? "I doubt it. It's not that simple," Asculai replied. "But in any case, we must take the American chief of staff's statement seriously. If nothing stops them, the Iranians will have to ability to create a nuclear bomb in a few months."
Mullen shares this concern, and on Sunday he told CNN, "Iran having nuclear weapons, I've believed for a long time, is a very very bad outcome - for the region and for the world."
Several hours later, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates estimated
that "they're not close to a stockpile, they're not close to a weapon at this point, and so there is some time."
The challenge, Gates said, is finding a balance between sanctions to pressure Iran and incentives for engagement with the United States and Europe. A sharp decline in oil prices since last year increases the chances for a resolution. "There are economic costs to this program; they (the Iranians) do face economic challenges at home," he said.
Reuters contributed to this report