Four Months’ Grace before Iran Takes up Its Nuclear Military Option
Iran’s hard-line Guardian Council, the real power in the land, Saturday, Dec. 3, ratified a parliamentary decision to block UN inspections should the Islamic republic’s nuclear activities be referred to the UN Security Council for sanctions. In August, uranium conversion was resumed in the face of international disapproval.
Iran’s radical leaders, supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his senior nuclear adviser Hashemi Rafsanjani, were therefore not dismayed by Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s declaration Thursday, Dec. 1, that Israel would not be able to accept a nuclear-armed Iran. He was addressing the annual newspaper editors’ lunch in Tel Aviv as the prime minister of the day.
The statement made a ringing slogan for Sharon’s new Kadima party’s campaign for the March 2006 general election. Otherwise it was meaningless.
A more serious statement came from AMAN commander Brig. Aharon Zeevi Wednesday Nov. 30 in his briefing to the Knesset foreign affairs and security committee. He warned that if international pressure on Iran fails to bring forth results by March 2006, the world powers might as well give up, because by then it will be too late: Iran will have attained the capability to manufacture a nuclear bomb. The general was saying in so many words that, according to his information, Iran is no more than four months away from a nuclear weapons option.
Some of the editors present at the lunch interpreted Sharon’s words as meaning he was planning a “Begin-style coup” – an assault on Iran’s nuclear installations ahead of Israel’s March 28 general election, like the late Israeli prime minister Menahem Begin’s order to the Israeli air force to demolish Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor shortly before the June 1981 vote. But it is worth recalling that Begin, unlike Sharon, was prepared to stand up to Washington when Israel’s security was in question, whereas the incumbent’s rhetoric sounds combative but usually conceals a more accommodating posture.
(Over the Rafah crossing from Sinai to Gaza, for instance, he last month followed the script handed him by US secretary Condoleezza Rice. The result: Israeli forfeited security control over the crossing and terrorists and weapons have been streaming through unchecked ever since.)
Sharon neglected to inform the editors of the contents of an Iranian laptop which the CIA got hold of recently and handed to Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA. debkafile‘s intelligence sources reveal that the data on Iran’s nuclear industry found in the computer included a set of instructions in Chinese on how to build miniature nuclear warheads that can be fitted onto surface missiles.
Furthermore, while Iran’s Shehab-3 ballistic missile is widely treated as its worst threat, not enough attention is focused on the new ground-to-ground Ghadar on which Iran is about to begin production. Its range is estimated at 2,500-3,000 km compared with the Shehab-3’s 1,800km, which is why the Israeli prime minister remarked that Iran was not only threatening Israel.
The Arrow anti-missile system Israeli developed with US assistance was successfully tested against a mock Shehab-3 Friday, Dec. 1. But debkafile‘s military experts say it is not up to tackling the Ghadar. According to American intelligence experts, the Chinese miniature missile technology may well be tailored to this new missile.
This Iranian short cut to a nuclear warhead was probably what Gen. Zeevi had in mind when he said Iran was only four months away from its goal.
More disquieting information was brought to Washington in recent days by a member of the Iranian opposition group, Mujaheddin Khalq, whose information on Iran’s nuclear progress obtained by clandestine means has consistently checked out since its reporting began in August 2003.
Last week, Alireza Jafarzadeh, a member, disclosed that Tehran had buried its most sensitive nuclear installations in deep subterranean tunnels fortified against aerial or missile attack. They were now dug deep in an area called Khak-e-Sefid (The White Earth), south of the expressway heading north from Tehran to the Alborz mountains near Damavand.
When Sharon said Israel is not in the lead of the campaign against Iran’s nuclear armament, he omitted to explain that Israel is not able on its own to destroy the deep bunkers which have been sunk at dozens of sites across Iran. Its air force may be able to direct a hit to the heart of Iran’s nuclear program but cannot destroy the entire industry.
In any case, diplomacy remains to the fore for handling the Iranian nuclear crisis.
On Dec. 1, the US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalizad, offered to launch high-level talks with Tehran on the situation in Iraq. It was his second offer after Iran refused his first. This was taken as an American feeler to find out if a direct US-Iranian channel might be opened – and not necessarily on Iraq alone.
With so much tentative diplomacy swirling around Iran’s nuclear plans, none is actually connecting to the destination which counts, the ayatollahs’ regime in Tehran. Their nuclear plans therefore continue apace and unchecked.