Tehran this week hardened its nuclear and military policies in defiance of tougher sanctions and ahead of international nuclear talks. The threat by Iran’s armed forces deputy chief Gen. Mohammad Hejazi of a preemptive strike against its “enemies,” was accompanied by its refusal to allow UN nuclear watchdog inspectors to visit the Parchin facility, following which the IAEA chief cut their mission short.
Western and Israeli intelligence experts have concluded that the transfer of 20 percent uranium enrichment to the underground Fordo site near Qom has shortened Iran’s race for the 90 percent (weapons) grade product to six weeks.
The International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano said Tuesday night, Feb. 21: “It is disappointing that Iran did not accept our request to visit Parchin.” This is the site were Iran conducts experiments in nuclear explosives and triggers.
This diplomatic understatement came amid three major reverses in the quest for a non-military solution to halt Iran’s drive for a nuclear weapon:
1. Iran placed a large obstacle in the path of resumed negotiations with six world powers on which US President Barack Obama had pinned his strategy for averting a war to arrest its nuclear weapon program. This strategy depended heavily on Iran eventually consenting to making its nuclear projects fully transparent, as his National Security Adviser Tom Donilon assured Israeli leaders earlier this week.
The day after Donilon wound up his talks in Israel, the UN inspectors were sent packing empty-handed from Tehran, putting paid to any hope of transparency.
They were also denied an interview with Mohsen Fakrrizadeh, director of the Parchin project and also believed in the West to be the paramount head of Iran’s military nuclear program.
2. The transfer of 20 percent uranium enrichment to Fordo is taken by Western and Israel intelligence experts to have accelerated the pace of enriching large quantities of 20 percent enriched uranium to weapons grade and shortened to an estimated six weeks the time needed for arming a nuclear bomb after a decision in Tehran.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz explained to the US official that Israel cannot afford to live with an Iran capable of building a nuclear bomb in the space of few weeks.
3. The threat that Iran will not wait for “its enemies” – Israel and/or the US – to strike and will act first.
White House spokesman Jay Carney responded to these reverses by saying Tuesday night: “Israel and the United States share the same objective, which is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” adding, however, “There is time and space for diplomacy to work, for the effect of sanctions to result in a change of Iranian behavior.”
Seen from Israel, Iranian behavior has already changed – and for the worse. Its tactics in recent days have exacerbated the threat hanging over its head from Iran and brought it that much closer.
Senior Israeli military and intelligence sources said Wednesday, Feb. 22, that Israel’s strategic and military position in the Middle East has taken a sharp downturn. The failure of the IAEA mission and the threat of preemptive action from Tehran present the double threat of Iran’s earlier nuclear armament coupled with military action to sabotage Israel’s preparations for a strike on its nuclear facilities.
As one Israeli source put it: “Since Wednesday the rules of the game have changed.”