Ian MacKinnon / The Times – 2004-10-15 23:41:10
(October 13, 2004) — A pre-emptive Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclearinstallations would be fraught with risks and difficulties, but it would set back significantly Tehran’s development programme, a respected think-tank in Tel Aviv said yesterday.
However, the bombing of Iran’s facilities –a possibility that appeared to increase with the revelation last month that the United States had agreed to sell Israel “bunker buster” bombs — should be the last resort, said researchers from the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.
After news that Israel would take delivery of the precision-guided bombs capable of destroying underground targets, some analysts argued that the diversity of Iran’s facilities and poor intelligence would make a raid impossible.
Israel’s Jaffee Centre Proposes ‘Pre-emptive’ Attack
Yet despite the problems of such an operation, Ephraim Kam, the Jaffee Centre’s deputy head, said that it would put the programme back for a year or more and should not be ruled out if diplomatic pressure failed to halt Iran’s research.
Israel regards Iran as its biggest strategic worry. Intelligence sources estimate that Tehran will acquire nuclear weapons by 2007 and defence chiefs have hinted at a first strike similar to the one on the Osirak facility in Iraq 23 years ago, which thwarted Saddam Hussein’s atomic designs.
Israel’s alarm has acquired new urgency after Major-General Giora Eiland, its National Security Adviser, said that Iran would reach the “point of no return” by late November, rather than next year, when
it would require no further outside aid to bring the programme to fruition.
Israeli Official Calls November a ‘Point of No Return’
Meanwhile, Iran must decide whether to co-operate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and suspend the work or face sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council for failing to comply.
Last month Iran revealed that it had defied the IAEA’s demands to end all uranium enrichment activities. Among the nuclear facilities that it has declared are uranium mines near Yazd and a uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz, incorporating large underground bunkers. Another facility at Parchin, near Tehran, was revealed by the United States, although its exact purpose remains unclear.
If Iran succeeds in putting its nuclear programme to military use, the Jaffee Centre says that it could dramatically destabilise the balance in the region, leading other countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria, to develop their own atomic installations.
Because of the threat that a nuclear Iran would pose, Dr Kam argues that if the IAEA and the international community fail to halt Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, Washington should intervene militarily, a prospect
that seems to be growing.
However, if the US shirked the challenge, Israel might have no choice but to act.
Iran has learnt from Iraq. It has buried facilities underground, spread them around and may have kept some secret. “There is a logic to operating against Iran,” Dr Kam said. “Just taking out the facilities that are known would create a serious degradation of the Iranian potential.”
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