Tags: israel | iran | attack

Israel Mulling Attack on Iran

Thursday, 05 Mar 2009 08:06 PM

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Israel’s leaders are “seriously considering” a unilateral strike on Iran – likely to occur this year – to destroy its nuclear weapons facilities, according to a story in The Jerusalem Post Thursday.

The reason is simple: Iran could develop a nuclear weapon within a year and has ready access to enough fissile material to produce up to 50 nuclear weapons

That’s the conclusion of a report crafted by top U.S. politicians and an incoming Obama administration diplomat that also makes it clear time is running out for an effective military attack to stop Iran. Tehran likely has made significant breakthroughs in nuclear technology, but it’s also upgrading air defenses and hardening its hidden laboratories.

Without urgent U.S. diplomatic intervention, the Jewish state likely will go it alone in destroying what it considers an existential threat, according to the report, entitled "Preventing a Cascade of Instability,” and distributed by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Diplomacy will only work if backed up by stronger international sanctions, its authors concluded.

The document offers a glimpse into the thinking among some top U.S. and Israeli policymakers who are experts on Iran. An early draft of the report was endorsed by Dennis Ross before he withdrew upon joining the Obama administration as a special adviser dealing with Iran. Senator Evan Bayh, D-Ind., of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Congressman Gary Ackerman, D-NY, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East, were among the signatories.

The bipartisan group also recommended increasing security guarantees and the supply of missile defenses and other protective measures to allies in the Middle East, both to reassure them of America's commitment to them and to dampen the perceived effectiveness, and hence appeal, of nuclear weapons for Iran.

But no matter what the course, the clock is ticking, the report’s authors make clear. The "cascade" alluded to in the report’s title is a reference to a set of 164 high-speed centrifuges used to enrich uranium to the high levels necessary to produce a nuclear weapon. The International Atomic Energy Agency believes that Iran has enough low enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon, and currently has 5,600 centrifuges operating at its pilot enrichment facility in Natanz. Iran has declared its intention to add another 45,000 centrifuges over the next five years.

"The ability to go from low enriched uranium to highly enriched uranium, especially if [the Iranians] expand the number of centrifuges, would be a relatively brief period of time, perhaps a year or so, before they'd be able to produce a nuclear weapon," William Schneider, Jr., chairman of the Defense Science Board, told Fox News. "So it's not a long-distance kind of problem."

Schneider also warned that Tehran -- which has threatened to wipe Israel off the map and equipped and funded regional terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah -- has access to significant amounts of the raw fissile material that would be the core ingredient in such a nuclear arsenal.

In crafting the report, several of the authors met with high-level Israeli officials to assess their perspective. They noted that Israel is not interested in becoming part of an American nuclear umbrella, even as Gulf countries want more assurances on that front.

"A declared U.S. guarantee would clarify a situation of ambiguity that may already work to Israel's advantage," the report notes. Also, "many Israelis fear that a declared U.S. guarantee could come at the price of circumscribing Israel's freedom of action in confronting existential dangers."

Israel is “quite serious in acting on its own about a nuclear-armed Iran," former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nancy Soderberg, one of the task force members who traveled to the region to research the report, said at a WINEP event held Wednesday on the report's release.

She noted that the timetable for an Israeli attack might be "significantly" moved up if Jerusalem believed Russia was going to make good on its pledge to supply Iran with the S-300 surface-to-air missile system, which would greatly complicate any Israeli attack.

If the delivery does occur, the report recommends more arms sales to Israel, such as more modern aircraft, so it can maintain its military edge.

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