Tehran’s acceleration in developing and securing its nuclear capability is causing a fast ramp up in speculation about possible preemptive action by Israel to neutralize the threat while or if it is still possible. According to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday, Aug. 30, economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation have failed to slow down Iran’s nuclear program. The IAEA report indicates that Iran’s program actually is speeding up, and that Iran is drawing close to reaching a capability to produce nuclear weapons in a location invulnerable to Israeli attack. It is not clear yet whether this will lead to a change in strategy or to a unilateral attack, but high-level, internal Israeli discussions are becoming more frantic in tone.
Israeli decision makers apparently agree that Iran’s program is on target to defy the reach of Israel’s military capability very soon. This will cross over what Israel considers to be its own line in the sand on the question of “taking out” the Iran’s nuclear capability before it is too late, but has the Israeli inner circle at a “dead end” according to Doug Mataconis in a recent outsidethebeltway.com article. One senior Israeli official, according to Mataconis, commented anonymously, “The more time elapses with no change on the ground in terms of Iranian policies, the more it becomes a zero-sum game.”
Iran’s Fordow nuclear plant is constructed deep beneath a mountain outside Qum. Some high-level United States officials believe that the U.S. may have the weapons capability to destroy the lab. There is the risk, however, that if a strike by either the U.S. or Israel failed to achieve the full objective it might simply drive the program further underground. It is doubtful that Israel would be able to deliver a knock-out blow on its own. At best, Israel could hinder access to the facility for a limited time period.
“They can’t do it right without us,” a former adviser to President Obama said recently. “And we’re trying to persuade them that a strike that just drives the program more underground isn’t a solution; it’s a bigger problem.”
Jerusalem Post reports that tensions were high in a recent meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu; the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro; and Republican Congressman Mike Rogers. Allegedly the meeting erupted into shouting, and Netanyahu bluntly declared, “Time has run out.”
Currently the U.S. and Israel are preparing to hold a joint military exercise late in October in support of preparedness for dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat. That is later than originally scheduled, however, and at a reduced level from what was originally planned.
According to Mataconis, military sources report that “instead of the approximately 5,000 U.S. troops originally trumpeted for Austere Challenge 12, as the annual exercise is called, the Pentagon will send only 1,500 service members, and perhaps as few as 1,200.”
Patriot anti-missile systems will arrive in Israel as planned, but the crews to operate them will not. Instead of two AEGIS ballistic missile defense warships being dispatched to Israeli waters, the new plan is to send one. Even the remaining vessel is listed as a maybe, according to officials in both militaries.
Prior to the planned military exercise, and between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Netanyahu will visit the U.S. for United Nations General Assembly meetings and meet with Obama. Obama and Netanyahu, as well as Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are scheduled to attend the U.N. meetings that start Sept. 23.
The IAEA issued the following statement following release of its report: “Yesterday evening, the International Atomic Energy Agency issued its Director General’s quarterly report on the implementation by Iran of its safeguards agreement with the IAEA and the Security Council resolutions.
“The Agency highlights Iran’s continuation of sensitive activities in violation of its international obligations as well as Iran’s lack of cooperation with the Agency with respect to resolving the outstanding issues associated with the possible military dimension of the Iranian nuclear program.
“In its resolution of November 2011, the Board of Governors had called for the Agency and Iran to intensify their dialogue in order to urgently resolve the outstanding issues associated with the possible military dimension of the Iranian nuclear program. France deeply regrets that despite all the efforts made it was not possible to achieve ‘any concrete results’ because of Iran’s failure to respond to the Agency’s questions.
“France condemns the activities being carried out by Iran at the Parchin site, which lead the Agency to conclude that its ability to verify disturbing information ‘has been compromised’ and that its ability to ‘conduct effective verification will be significantly hampered’ if it ever gains access to the site.
“The installation of a significant number of new centrifuges at the Fordow plant is also a cause for concern, while Iran continues, in defiance of its obligations, to enrich uranium at 3.5% and at 20%.
“We again urge Iran to make concrete gestures to show its willingness to meet the demands of the international community, to cooperate fully and without delay with the IAEA in order to shed light on the unresolved issues and to put an end to the activities that compromise the Agency’s work. We also urge it to suspend all of the sensitive activities being carried out in violation of its international obligations.”
Editor’s note: Rosh Hashana is celebrated from sunset on Sunday, Sept. 16 this year, and Yom Kippur at sunset Tuesday, Sept. 25.