CIA director Leon Panetta has admitted that Iran has enough low-enriched uranium for two nuclear bombs that would likely take two years to build. In an interview with ABC's This Week Sunday, June 27, the spy chief virtually admitted that every effort to halt Iran's drive for a nuclear bomb had failed. Asked if the latest round of UN sanctions would put an end to Iran's nuclear ambitions, he said: "Probably not."
According to debkafile's military sources, Panetta was the most realistic of any US official of late about the epic turn of events confronting the US, Israel, the Middle East and the Gulf nations, namely Iran's transformation into the region's second nuclear power after Israel.
His evaluation translates into the following prognosis: If today Iran has enough low-enriched uranium to build its first two nuclear warheads two years hence, it means that by then, by sustaining its present rate of progress, Tehran will have acquired enough fissile fuel to build another five to six bombs and another 10-12 by 2015. A nuclear arsenal was Iran's goal from the year 2000 and it is steadily advancing on this goal unhindered by any outside security interference, as debkafile's military and Iranian sources have reported for the last six months.
At the beginning of June, Israeli Mossad director Meir Dagan estimated that Iran was lagging behind its enriched uranium target due to a number of technical malfunctions. But he never said or even implied that the program was stalled. That it was not, Panetta has now confirmed.
In so doing, he refuted the latest firm-sounding assertions by US president Barack Obama and defense secretary Robert Gates that Iran will not be allowed to acquire nuclear arms.
Although he did not spell this out, the CIA director's words mean that since diplomacy and sanctions have reached a dead end, the only realistic option left for bring Iran's nuclear progress to a halt is a military strike. But in the same interview, asked about a potential Israeli military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, Panetta said he thinks "Israel is giving the US room on the diplomatic and political fronts."
What he said, in effect, was that the Netanyahu-Barak government, which rarely moves in any direction without President Obama's okay, is still not considering military action against Iran – even at this eleventh hour before disaster – and willing to go along with the Obama administration's pretense that the diplomatic option can still work.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and defense minister Ehud Barak are sidestepping the toughest security threats Israel ha faced – a nuclear-armed Iran and the evolving extremist, anti-West "Northern Islamic alliance" in the process of formation by Iran, Turkey, Syria, Hamas and Hizballah. They are immersed instead in such side issues as calibrating the sustainability of the Gaza siege, the fictitious indirect talks with the Palestinians (Mahmoud Abbas is never in the country) and a possible handover to Lebanon of the tiny divided village of Ghajar, which no one wants other than the UN peacekeeping force.
Israel's leaders continue to hide from the public the fundamental differences between Israel and the Obama administration not just about Iran, but about its own nuclear capabilities in the face of the US president's determination to denuclearize the Middle East, starting with international restrictions and inspections for Israel's reputed arsenal.
The Netanyahu government's willingness to align its policies with Washington accounts for the constant flow of senior US military and defense officials visiting Israel and proclaiming the administration's dedication to Israel's security. Only last week, Michele Flournoy, US undersecretary of defense for policy, attended a session in Tel Aviv of the annual strategic dialogue between the two governments. She pledged that the US would always guarantee Israel's military and technological supremacy.
Last week too Barak was in Washington and held talks with Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of staff. Only 72 hours later, Mullen paid a short visit to Tel Aviv and was again closeted with Barak after meeting chief of staff Maj. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi and the IDF's high command.
When his turn for a statement came round, he said he tried to see regional events through Israeli eyes.
All these visits and talks are extremely important. But what use are they when their only purpose is to hold Israel back from using its military superiority to defend itself against Iran, a vital need which should be obvious to anyone seeing the Middle East through Israeli eyes?
The brakes Washington applies to Israel's freedom of action in its own defense have allowed Iran to reach the advanced stage in its nuclear objectives frankly described by Leon Panetta on June 27.