Israelis agree Iran hasn´t decided on atom bomb (AP) Associated Press) By AMY TEIBEL JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 03/18/12 9:24 pm ET)
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JERUSALEM Despite saber-rattling from Jerusalem, Israeli officials
now agree with the U.S. assessment that Tehran has not yet decided on
the actual construction of a nuclear bomb, according to senior
Israeli government and defense figures.
Even so, there is great concern in Israel about leaving Iran "on the
cusp" of a bomb explaining why Israel continues to hint at a
military attack on Iran´s nuclear installations before it moves
enough of them underground to protect them from Israel´s bombs.
Israel´s leaders have been charging in no uncertain terms for years
that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. Though officials say
they accept the more nuanced American view, they warn that it is just
a matter of semantics, because an Iran on the verge of being able to
build a bomb would still be a danger.
The United States is playing up its assessment that Iran has not made
its final decision in a public campaign to persuade Israel to call
off any attack plan and allow the increasingly harsh sanctions
against Iran time to persuade Tehran to back down.
The concern which is widely shared in Israel as part of a complex
calculation is of an Iranian retaliation that might spark regional
conflict and send oil prices soaring, at a time when the world
economy is already struggling and U.S. presidential elections loom.
Also in the equation are concerns about the ability of the Israeli
home front to withstand a sustained barrage of Iranian missiles fired
in retaliation. Iranian surrogates Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in
the Gaza Strip could also bombard Israel with thousands of rockets,
and U.S. troops in the Gulf region could also become targets.
Several senior Israeli officials who spoke in recent days to The
Associated Press said Israel has come around to the U.S. view that no
final decision to build a bomb has been made by Iran. The officials,
who are privy to intelligence and to the discussion about the Iranian
program, said this is the prevailing view in the intelligence
community, but there are also questions about whether Tehran might be
hiding specific bomb making operations.
The concern, they said, is about allowing the Iranian program to
reach the point where there is enough enriched weapons grade material
that a bomb could quickly be assembled, within a year.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, "Iran, whose
leader foments terrorism and violence around the globe and calls for
our destruction ... this regime must never be allowed to have nuclear
Israel officials have said that with Iran moving its installations
underground, Israel´s level of bunker-busting capability leaves it
with a window of no more than several months to act effectively. The
United States, with more powerful bombs, would have a much longer
period but leaders here are loathe to be entirely dependent on U.S.
determination on the issue.
The suspicion in Israel is that the Iranians have held off on a
decision in order to deny Israel and other countries the pretext
for an attack, officials said, noting that to a certain extent the
matter is semantic and therefore secondary.
All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the subject
is deemed too delicate to be discussed on the record, and the
government has ordered silence.
Israel views Iran as a threat to its survival and, like the West,
sees Tehran´s ramped-up enrichment of uranium, a key element of bomb
making, as undercutting its claims that its nuclear program is purely
civilian. The U.N. nuclear agency cited its concerns about Iran´s
ultimate designs in reports, but notes its inspectors have found no
direct evidence that Iran is moving toward an atomic weapon.
Netanyahu ratcheted up the tough talk this month, emphasizing during
a White House visit and in a high-profile speech at home that Israel
was prepared to act alone if necessary, even over U.S. objections.
In advance of Netanyahu´s White House visit and during a speech to a
powerful pro-Israel lobby, President Barack Obama took an
increasingly assertive tone about U.S. refusal to tolerate a nuclear
Iran and willingness to block that militarily.
Still, he tempered this tone by saying there was "too much loose talk
of war" and emphasized his preference for diplomacy and sanctions.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reiterated shortly before
Netanyahu arrived in Washington the prevailing U.S. view that Tehran
has not decided to produce weapons.
Iran reported in February that it possesses up to 100 kilograms of
uranium enriched to 20 percent, which would be enough for four bombs
if further processed. Uranium must be enriched to 90 percent to be
Israeli intelligence officials, like other intelligence agencies
worldwide, estimate that once a decision to build a bomb is reached,
it would take months to upgrade the enrichment and months more to
build a crude bomb in all, a year to 18 months.
Then, to fit a bomb to a Shahab-3 missile capable of striking Israel
would take Iran two years, Israeli defense officials say.
Israeli officials who favor a strike do not want Iran even to reach
the point where work on a bomb could begin.
Israeli leaders have invoked the Nazi Holocaust of World War II, when
6 million Jews were killed, in their warnings about Iran, citing its
nuclear program, repeated references to Israel´s destruction, support
for anti-Israel militants on the southern and northern borders and
development of missiles capable of being fitted with nuclear
There is also fear of an Iranian bomb sparking a nuclear arms race
across an already volatile region with an active illicit, cross-
border weapons trade.
Israel itself is widely believe to have an arsenal of nuclear
weapons, though it has a policy of neither confirming nor denying
Israel has been warning of an Iranian nuclear threat since the 1990s
and has been working on a possible military strike for years.
Leaders here have welcomed the increased sanctions on Iranian oil
exports and banks, but they remain skeptical of an Iranian climbdown,
especially because Russia and China refuse to join the effort. (©
2012 The Associated Press 03/18/12)
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