Visiting Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert was on firm ground when he declared in a speech to a joint session of the US Congress Wednesday, May 24:
“A nuclear Iran means a terrorist state could achieve the primary mission for which terrorists live and die: the mass destruction of innocent human life. This challenge, which I believe is the test of our time, is one the West cannot afford to fail.”
He went on to say, “History will judge our generation by the actions we take now. If we do not take Iran’s bellicose rhetoric seriously now, we will be forced to take its nuclear aggression seriously later.”
A few hours earlier, in the talks he held with US President George W. Bush at the White House – and before that with secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon – Olmert was briefed on the administration’s evaluations of the Iran issue.
He was given to understand that if the United States is to take up its military option against Iran, it must do so forward before the end of 2007.
(This time frame was first published by DEBKA-Net-Weekly 254 on May 19: US Allies Told to Brace for War Contingency)
Bush and Rumsfeld expounded at length on Iran’s missile program, explaining that US intelligence classifies this peril under two headings:
1. The threat posed by short-range missiles to American forces in Iraq and Gulf bases, as well as to the Gulf nations. Intelligence experts estimate that these weapons are capable of inflicting heavy casualties and serious damage. However, just as US and Gulf targets are vulnerable to this kind of missile strike, so too are Iran’s most strategic installations exposed to aerial attack and strikes by the same type of missiles, wielded by the Americans as well as by Gulf air and missile forces.
2. Regarding fears of the long-range Shehab-3 missiles, whose estimated range is 1,300 km, the US president and secretary of defense assured the Israeli prime minister that the Iranians have no more than two or three dozen operational missiles of this type. US intelligence agencies do not believe that this quantity is sufficient for Iran to launch simultaneously more than three or four missiles against a single target. An attack on that scale American military planners think can be handled by the anti-air and anti-missile defense systems deployed by the Americans, the Israelis and the Gulf states, which are judged capable of shooting most of them down.
But that situation will not last beyond the end of 2007, according to American officials.
While international attention is focused primarily on Iran’s uranium enrichment projects, the Islamic regime is straining every resource and effort to the task of expanding the production of Shehab-3 missiles. In the next eighteen months, several hundred are expected to roll off Tehran’s productions lines and pile up in its war arsenal.
While, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington sources, neither Bush nor Rumsfeld spelled this out, they implied in their conversations with Olmert that a final American decision to hit Iran must go forward before then.
After that, the hundreds of Shehab-3 missiles will afford Tehran the resource for inflicting so much damage to the Americans, the Israelis and the Gulf states, that all military planning with regard to Iran will go by the board and have to be remodeled to accommodate far larger forces than Washington contemplates at present.