Although the most recent report published by the International Atomic Energy Agency supports Israel's claims and indicates that Iran could produce enough highly-enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb within four to six months, this is not the time for an Israeli attack on the Islamic Republic.
The report indicates that by February 2013, at the latest, Iran will have nuclear-weapons "breakout" capability, meaning it will have all the skills and parts needed to quickly build an atomic bomb if Supreme Leader Khamenei gives the order to do so. Essentially, this is Israel's red line.
This does not mean that by the end of 2013 Iran will have a nuclear bomb. Khamenei will most likely delay the decision on a measure that would result in additional sanctions and perhaps even a military strike. He will also want to accumulate fissionable material and a few warheads so that when Iran "comes out of the closet" it will already pose a credible nuclear threat.
This may occur in 2015, maybe even toward the end of 2014. But even before this, as a country "on the brink of nuclear capability" at the end of 2013, Iran will be able to directly threaten its neighbors and Israel to achieve its strategic goals and become a regional and global power.
This situation, which would accelerate the nuclear arms race in our region, threatens our security in the long term more than Hezbollah's rockets, Syria and Hamas combined. Washington fears that the Non-Proliferation Treaty will collapse and allow terror groups and other rogue states to acquire a nuclear bomb.
The IAEA's quarterly report is basically an admission that the efforts exerted by the UN and the West to set Iran's nuclear program back have failed completely. The report also determined that the military installation in Parchin was built in 2000, but the IAEA learned of its existence only in 2010.
This forced Iran to halt activity at the site and work to conceal the suspected nuclear weapons-related experiments there. The facility has been covered with pink tarps, effectively blocking the UN agency's attempts to monitor a suspected cleanup of the site. The agency has tried to gain access to Parchin since February – and failed. The Pink plastic sheeting hiding the suspected nuclear facility is apparently also aimed preventing the site's detection by drone and satellite sensors.
In any case, the IAEA said it would not resume negotiations with Iran until its inspectors are given access to the Parchin military site. Even if the inspectors are allowed into the site, the UN nuclear agency sees no point in looking for poof at a site which has been cleaned up.
The IAEA further revealed that Iran is enriching uranium not only with centrifuges but with laser technology as well. Iran, the report said, is also developing new, faster centrifuges for uranium enrichment that will allow it to produce fissionable material at a record pace. It is safe to assume that Iran wants to produce uranium and develop nuclear warheads before the US, Britain and France (and maybe Israel) get organized and launch a military operation against it.
The report also indicates that Iran accelerated the production of low-enriched uranium (a level of less than 5%) and uranium enriched to 20% purity during the months when the "stifling sanctions" went into effect and Tehran was negotiating with the western powers.
The West demanded that Iran halt the activity at the Fordo facility, near the city of Qom. The site is buried deep inside a mountain to better protect it against any enemy strikes. Defense Minster Barak is referring to Fordo when he speaks of an "immunity zone." According to Barak, Israel will find it difficult to launch an effective military strike to delay Iran's nuclear program after the Islamic Republic implements its plan to install 3,000 advanced centrifuges at Fordo and after it transfers its enriched uranium to the site. Some 1,400 centrifuges have already been installed in Fordo, but most of them are not operational.
The IAEA report says Iran's facilities have produced 189.4 kilograms (417.6 pounds) of uranium enriched to 20%. In order to produce a bomb or a nuclear warhead Iran would need 260kg (about 570 pounds) of uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20%. This means that Iran is on track to stockpile enough 20% enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon by February 2013.
The report seemingly justifies an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. There is no doubt that if and when Iran installs an additional 3,000 centrifuges in Fordo and activates them, a solo Israeli strike would most likely not succeed in stopping or even delaying Iran's race towards a nuclear bomb.
Iran is not showing any signs that it is succumbing to the West's pressure, and the pace at which it is installing centrifuges (which at the current phase of the nuclear program is more crucial than the actual uranium enrichment) is impressive and poses a major threat. Therefore, if the decision-makers in Jerusalem have decided not to rely on the US and whoever is elected president in November, they must convene the Cabinet and order the IDF to act soon.
True, it would be very risky for Israel to trust an American president to fight its battles, but there are other reasons why Israel should act with restraint:
- The fighting in Syria is weakening the army and the regime in Damascus, thus reducing the likelihood that Syria would want or be able to take part in any Iranian response to an Israeli strike. The war in Syria minimizes the threat on Israel's home front and would make it easier for the IDF to act in Lebanon against Hezbollah. The rebels have already taken out two Syrian army anti-aircraft batteries, and they are not through. Therefore, Israel should not rush to launch an attack in Iran.
- Moreover, the IDF has also been improving its long range capabilities. Therefore, it is safe to assume that if we wait, Iran's "immunity zone" will shrink as a result of Israel's enhanced military capabilities.
- The best way to stop Iran's nuclear program is to overthrow the regime in Tehran or force it to change its policy due to pressure from the masses. Only economic sanctions can achieve these objectives. This is why we mustn't give the international community an excuse to soften the sanctions.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is no consensus within the Israeli public in support of a military strike. The public senses that Iran's nuclear sword is not hanging over its neck just yet, and it is not convinced that setting Iran's nuclear program back a few years justifies the heavy toll Israel would pay for attacking the Islamic Republic. The security establishment is also of the opinion that now is not the time to strike, and it does not believe Iran will obtain nuclear weapons if Israel does not act immediately.
So far, Netanyahu and Barak have failed to create legitimacy in the local and international arena for a military operation. Past experience has taught that we should not go to war in such conditions.