Within three months Iran will reach a point of no return in terms of its technological capacity to manufacture a nuclear bomb, IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz told the Knesset's Security and Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday.
"This fact does not represent a threat to Israel just yet, because Iran will have to overcome a few obstacles before it can put the weapons to use," he added.
Western intelligence agencies have been trying to figure out how close Iran is to the bomb for a number of years. In Washington, a change of position has occurred of late, and a "critical decade" is the latest estimate – but views there are also divided.
Last week, Israel's stance was strengthened by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Elbaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who said that the minute Iran completes work on its Natanz core, three months would separate the Islamic Republic from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The timing mentioned by Halutz – March 2006 – is especially interesting. At the start of the week, the London Sunday Times published an article saying that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon instructed the IDF to prepare for a military strike at the end of March, in light of Israeli estimations that uranium is being enriched in Iranian civilian sites at this very moment.
According to the report, which was denied by Jerusalem, the level of preparedness of the Air Force has been moved up to the highest level for the same reason.
The committee also discussed the issue of Palestinian convoys and passages. Halutz told Knesset Members that for the time being, the army has frozen agreements over crossings from Gaza to the West Bank via Israel, due to the "lack of effort by the Palestinians to deal with weapons smuggling and Qassam rocket attacks."
'Security matters not open to negotiations'
The deal over the crossings, which was mediated by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and meetings around the issue, are continuing thanks to efforts by David Welch, assistant U.S. Secretary of State.
Deputy Minister Zeev Boim said: "As long as Qassam rockets and terror attacks by the Islamic Jihad continue, and the Palestinian Authority is not taking real steps (to counter these), movement of Palestinian convoys will not be possible.
“It must be understood that security matters are not open to negotiations, and if the Palestinians don't provide security on their side – they won't receive the carrying out of the agreement on our side."
Ronny Sofer contributed to the report