Iran has completed the development of a nuclear weapon and awaits nothing more than a sign from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to start assembling its first nuclear bomb, said Israeli Military Intelligence Chief Major General Aviv Kochavi on Thursday, February 2. Assembling a bomb would take up to a year, Kochavi estimated. With 100 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 percent grade and another 4 tons of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent already in stock, Iran would need another two years to make four nuclear bombs.
Therefore, by the end of 2012 or early 2013 Iran may have a single nuclear bomb, but by 2015 the figure would jump to four or five.
The officer was essentially amplifying the words of his predecessor, Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, who said on Jan. 26 that as long ago as 2007 or 2008, Iran had already passed the point of no return in developing nuclear weapons. Kochavi agreed with him that none of the sanctions imposed thus far had persuaded Iran to slow down, least of all shut down, its drive for a nuclear weapon.
His comments coincided with the findings published Thursday by the Enterprise Institute, an American think tank, that Iran would be able to manufacture a 15-kiloton nuclear bomb as soon as August of this year, just seven months from now.
Also Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon disclosed that the big blast at the Iranian missile base near Tehran last November blew up a new missile system with a range of 10,000 kilometers, capable of targeting the United States.
Commenting on Iran's underground bunkers for nuclear facilities, the minister stressed that any facility built by man can be destroyed by man. "Speaking as a former chief of staff, I say none of Iran's installations are immune to attack," he said.
Major General Kochavi went on to say that if Iran had attained a nuclear capability, this meant that the US and Israel had failed to pre-empt this outcome.
Turning to another threat, the military intelligence chief painted a grim picture of 200,000 rockets and missiles of assorted types pointing at Israel.
Wednesday, February 1, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz stressed that there is no longer any point on the Israeli map that is outside the range of enemy missiles.
According to Gen. Kochavi, Iran, Syria, Hizballah and Hamas are dispersing their missiles and rockets to sites deep inland and integrated in urban environments to minimize their vulnerability to IDF attack. He warned "the enemy" had prepared increasing numbers of its missiles for "depth strikes against Israeli population centers, their warheads more lethal than ever."
"Every tenth residential house in Lebanon," he said, "harbors a missile arsenal or launching position. Their sheer volume has reached a strategic dimension with which Israel will have to deal."
Tuesday, Jan. 31, the IDF practiced mobilizing an armored division under war conditions, debkafile's military sources report. The drill simulated moving the troops to conscription bases, arming them with equipment and weapons and getting them to battle lines – all under the heavy missile bombardment of military facilities, national highways and railway lines.
The various assessments of Iran's nuclear capabilities have faced serious credibility problems over the years, debkafile's intelligence sources note.
Today, thanks to Kochavi and Yadlin, we know that the US National Intelligence Estimate of 2007 accepted by the Bush administration was wrong. Its main finding was that Iran had discontinued its military nuclear program in 2003. For five years, Western intelligence officials have given out misleading estimates to save their governments having to pursue direct action for preempting a nuclear Iran.
One school of thought claimed that Iran would not build a bomb until it had the resources to create an arsenal; another, that Tehran lacked the technology for weaponizing enriched uranium. Does the latest evaluation that the manufacture of a bomb awaits the decision of one man, the Iranian Supreme Ruler, fall into the same category as the others? Or is it another gambit to fend off a military strike against Iran for five more years?
How do the US and Israel know for sure that Khamenei has not given the order and that Iranian teams are not already busy assembling a bomb in some bunker?
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has maintained more than once that America has the resources for finding out about a decision by the Supreme Leader, but no American or Israeli intelligence officer can endorse this certainty.
It should be remembered, debkafile's military and intelligence sources note, that when Western intelligence announced the discovery of the Fordo underground facility near Qom in mid-2009, construction had begun undiscovered at least eighteen months earlier.