At its present rate of enrichment, Iran will have 250 kilograms of 20-percent grade uranium, exactly enough to build its first nuclear bomb, in roughly six weeks, and two-to- four bombs by early 2013, debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report. Hence the leak by an unnamed Israeli security source Sunday, Aug. 12, disclosing Iran’s progress in developing the detonator and fuses for a nuclear warhead which can be fitted onto Shehab-3 ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel.
Since 20 percent refined uranium is a short jump to weapons grade fuel, Iran will have the capability and materials for building an operational nuclear bomb by approximately October 1.
This knowledge is not news to US President Barack Obama, Saudi King Abdullah, Syrian ruler Bashar Assad, or Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – and certainly not to Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Netanyahu’s comment at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday: “All threats against the home front are dwarfed by one – Iran must not be allowed to have nuclear arms!” – was prompted by that deadline.
Ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did not have that information when he “assured” Tel Aviv students Sunday, “Iran’s nuclear program has not reached the threshold necessitating Israeli action now or in the near future.” He further claimed that Israel’s “defense leaders” don’t subscribe to the view that “action now is unavoidable.” Olmert, who stepped down under a cloud of suspected corruption in 2009, has not since then had access to regular intelligence briefings on Iran. So either he spoke out of ignorance or willfully joined an opposition chorus of voices speaking out against Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
The fact is that when Olmert approved the Israeli strike for destroying a nuclear reactor under construction by Iran and North Korea in northern Syria in September 2007, Iran was years away from accumulating enough enriched uranium and the capability to build nuclear warheads.
Both are now within Tehran’s grasp in weeks.
Leading an opposition campaign to bring down the incumbent government is legitimate. Discrediting belated Israeli action to pre-empt a nuclear Iran as fodder for that campaign is not. If what Olmert and Barack (the same defense minister as today) did in 2007 was necessary then, action now for delaying Iran’s imminent “breakout” to a bomb is many times more necessary and far more urgent.
However Netanyahu and Barak have put themselves in a straitjacket by two lapses:
1. By foot-dragging on their decision for two years, they have led their opponents at home and in Washington – and Khamenei’s office too – to believe that, by turning on the heat, they can hold Israel back from military action against Iran’s nuclear program until it is too late. The time has been used not just for Iranian nuclear progress, but to enlist ex-politicians and retired generals at home and add them to the voices, especially in the White House, which believe Israel can learn to live with a nuclear-armed Iran.
2. Netanyahu and Barak have behaved as though a decision on Iran is in their exclusive province, insulated from the turmoil and change swirling through Israel’s Arab neighbors in the past two years.
But the Middle East has a way of catching up with and rushing past slow-moving politicians:
Sunday, at 10:00 a.m. Netanyahu warned his ministers that no threat was worse than a nuclear Iran. At 17:55 p.m., Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi dropped a bombshell in Cairo. In one fell swoop, he smashed the Egyptian military clique ruling the country for decades, sacked the Supreme Military Council running Egypt since March 2011 and cut the generals off from their business empire by appropriating the defense ministry and military industry.
That fateful eight hours-less-five-minutes have forced Israel’s leaders to take a second look at their plans for Iran.
Morsi’s lightning decisions were the finishing touches that proved the Islamist Bedouin terror attacks in Sinai of Aug. 5 fitted neatly into a secret master plan hatched by Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to seize full control of rule in Cairo – a plan debkafile first revealed exclusively last Friday, Aug. 10.
Netanyahu now faces one of the hardest dilemmas of his political career – whether to go forward with the Iran operation, which calls for mustering all Israel’s military and defense capabilities – especially for the repercussions, after being suddenly confronted with unforeseen security challenges on its southwestern border, for thirty years a frontier of peace.
The exceptional talents of Netanyahu and Barak to put off strategic decisions until they are overtaken by events has landed Israel in an especially perilous plight, surrounded now by a soon-to-be nuclear-armed Iran from the east; threatened Syrian chemical warfare from the north and the Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt to its south.