Brigadier General (res.) Uzi Eilam, who for a decade headed the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, does not believe that Tehran is even close to having a bomb, if that is even what it really aspires to.
"The Iranian nuclear program will only be operational in another 10 years," declares Eilam, a senior official in Israel's atomic program. "Even so, I am not sure that Iran wants the bomb."
- Netanyahu issues Iran warning in Holocaust memorial speech
- Israel's insistence on full Iranian nuclear rollback risks new rift with US
Uzi Eilam comes from the heart of Israel's secret security mechanisms, having served in senior roles in the defense establishment that culminated in a decade as the head of the atomic agency. His comments are the first by a senior official that strongly criticize Netanyahu's policies on the Islamic Republic.
"The statements and threats made regarding an attack on Iran did not help," Eilam says. "We cannot lead the charge on this front. As far as the project goes, Iran's nuclear facilities are scattered and buried under tons of earth, concrete and steel. This would require more than one strike, such as on the nuclear reactors in Iraq and Syria. A strike on Iran's nuclear facilities would in effect be the opening salvo in all-out war."
Eilam is one of the central figures in the development of Israel's nuclear and missile programs in the last half century: Before his decade heading the Atomic Energy Commission, he was head of the IDF's Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure (known in Israel by its Hebrew acronym, Mafat).
Since then, he has worked as an advisor for the defense establishment, and is well-informed on Israel's nuclear program, and has been closely following that of Iran. He is convinced that the road to an Iranian nuclear weapon is still a very long one.
"From being involved in many technology projects, I have learned the hard way that things take time," he says. "Netanyahu and other politicians have struck terrible, unnecessary fear into the hearts of the Israeli public, and thankfully the flames fanned over the issue seemed to have died down for now."
Netanyahu has even condemned the nuclear agreement being hammered out between Iran and the West, but Eilam has a different perspective.
"According to reports, the steps Iran has taken are most significant, the primary step being the dilution of more than half of its enriched fuel," he says, referring to the Iranian decision to dilute its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium to 5-percent grade uranium.
"The main issues are still ahead of us, but it is definitely possible to be optimistic. I think we should give the diplomatic process a serious chance, alongside ongoing sanctions. And I'm not even sure that Iran would want the bomb – it could be enough for them to be a nuclear threshold state – so that it could become a regional power and intimidate its neighbors.
"Besides, what good would bombing do? It would only unite the Iranian people behind its government, and provide it with an incentive to continue the project, with far more resources. Bombing would achieve the direct opposite of what we desired."
Eilam points the finger of blame directly at Netanyahu. "Netanyahu is using the Iranian threat to achieve a variety of political objectives," he said. "These declarations are unnecessarily scaring Israel's citizens, given Israel is not party to the negotiations to determine whether Iran will or will not dismantle its nuclear program."
But Eilam is reluctant to present a theory on why Netanyahu has followed this path. "I studied engineering and worked in research and development. I have no clue about his psychology, or ours."