Will Israel attack Iran? Should it do so?
US & European intel services differ on whether Iran intends actually to make a bomb or merely acquire the capability to do so. We say they have not decided to make a bomb, while the Europeans believe otherwise. As does the UN:
In its most recent report last week, the agency repeated suspicions Iran may have: conducted high-explosives testing to set off a nuclear charge; worked on computer modeling of a core of a nuclear warhead; prepared for a nuclear weapons test; or worked on development of a nuclear payload for a missile that could reach Israel.
The debate is one of how many proverbial angels can dance on the head of a pin. There are two reasons for this: (a) the timeline for converting uranium ore into weapons-grade uranium fuel; (b) the differences--minimal--between nuclear capability and a nuclear weapon. Put simply, the timeline to convert 15 metric tons of uranium into 15 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium, sufficient to fuel a single uranium atomic bomb, runs like this: 11 months (331 days) to convert uranium ore into commercial-grade 3.5% enriched uranium; just over one month (37 days) to convert commercial-grade fuel to 19.75& medical-research grade fuel; and just 8 days--NOT a misprint--8 days--to convert medical-grade fuel into weapons-grade 90% enriched uranium to fuel a bomb.
Then there are the minimal differences between Iran acquiring a nuclear capability, assembling a nuclear "device" and assembling a nuclear weapon. "Capability" means that Iran would have all the parts, which could be assembled within hours--the turn of the screwdriver. "Device" means a bomb too large to put inside a bomb, shell or warhead casing; a device can be delivered by unconventional means--e.g., inside a shipping container or a van. "Weapon" means a bomb compact and light enough to put into a bomb, artillery shell or missile warhead.
Factor in Israel's different timeline for a strike, based upon its lesser ability to penetrate deeply buried facilities versus that for the US; only if Israel trusts the US absolutely would Israel pass up an earlier strike.
Then factor in what Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in The New Republic, recounting the 1967 failure of strongly pro-Israel LBJ to honor a 1957 promise of Eisenhower Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to keep open the Strait of Tiran (which is the sole means of Israeli access to the Red Sea) in the run-up to the 1967 Six-Day War. LBJ did not want another war while Vietnam was in full swing. Thus history teaches that even a trusted pro-Israel President cannot always be counted upon to fully support Israel in time of dire crisis.
In truth, as ex-Bush 43 senior official Robert Joseph writes, Team Obama likely is resigned to a nuclear Iran. Unwilling to use force or aid the opposition, relying on inadequate sanctions & feckless talks equates to acceptance of a nuclear Iran. It is thus wise that Israel prepares a first test of is most advanced missile defense system, Arrow-3.
As to how effective a strike would be, Amos Yadlin, one of the 8 Israeli pilots who bombed Saddam's reactor in 1981, explains why even a few years' delay coupled with fear of a second strike could frustrate the nuclear ambitions of Iran's leaders:
Some experts oppose an attack because they claim that even a successful strike would, at best, delay Iran’s nuclear program for only a short time. But their analysis is faulty. Today, almost any industrialized country can produce a nuclear weapon in four to five years — hence any successful strike would achieve a delay of only a few years.
What matters more is the campaign after the attack. When we were briefed before the Osirak raid, we were told that a successful mission would delay the Iraqi nuclear program for only three to five years. But history told a different story.
After the Osirak attack and the destruction of the Syrian reactor in 2007, the Iraqi and Syrian nuclear programs were never fully resumed. This could be the outcome in Iran, too, if military action is followed by tough sanctions, stricter international inspections and an embargo on the sale of nuclear components to Tehran. Iran, like Iraq and Syria before it, will have to recognize that the precedent for military action has been set, and can be repeated.
Team Obama does not, alas, hear this. Nor will they hear Mort Zuckerman's call for decisive US action to stop Iran's nuclear quest. According to an Iranian commentator oft-quoted inside Iran, the mullahs believe that once their deeply buried al-Fordo facility is fully operational the nuclear calculus will shift in their favor, because they believe the facility to be immune from effective attack.
So in the end, it is increasingly likely that Israel will take action--on its own, and without prior warning to the US. You only give a heads up in advance to those you trust to keep silent.
SCARY. A top German newspaper reporter writes that North Korea may have conducted two uranium bomb tests in 2010 for Iran, rather than for its own program.
Bottom Line. Israel got a big break this week: Barack Obama did not flatly, publicly promise to bomb Iran if sanctions fail. Such a guarantee would have been phony, but it would have been believed by many outside Israel. The result would have been to raise the political cost to Israel of bombing Iran.
But Obama stopped short of that, simply saying that a military option remains on the table. There, Israelis know, it will stay--on the table.
Letter from the Capitol, LFTC, National Security, Nuclear Proliferation, WMD, Terrorism, Foreign Policy, Conservative Politics