Israeli Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz said his country must build up its military capabilities and be prepared to strike if economic sanctions fail to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Israel must be “willing to deploy” its military assets because Iran may be within a year of gaining nuclear weapons capability, Gantz said yesterday.
Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency wrapped up a round of talks this week aimed at resolving Western suspicions that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear-bomb capability, and officials said they planned further discussions.
“There is no doubt that Iran is striving for a bomb,” Gantz said in an address to the annual Herzliya Conference at the Interdisciplinary Center academic campus north of Tel Aviv. Its activities “must be disrupted,” he said.
U.S. intelligence agencies think Iran is developing capabilities to produce nuclear weapons “should it chose to do so,” James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee Jan. 31.
“We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons,” he said.
In Washington, a policy group called for providing Israel with additional bunker-buster bombs to increase pressure on Iran not to go nuclear.
The Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Project called yesterday for providing Israel with 200 GBU-31 bombs and two or three KC-135 aerial refueling tankers. Israel has a different variant of the bunker buster and about a dozen aerial tankers, which would be needed to enable Israeli warplanes to strike targets in Iran, according to a report by the group.
‘Pressure on Iran’
“The pressure on Iran to negotiate in good faith will be maximized to the extent Iran believes that not just the United States, but also Israel, is capable of and prepared to deliver a crippling blow to its nuclear program,” according to the report from the nonprofit research group led by former Democratic Senator Charles Robb of Virginia and retired General Charles Wald, a former deputy commander of the U.S. European Command.
To thwart Iran, the group endorsed a “triple-track” strategy of diplomacy, economic sanctions and “credible, visible preparations for a military option of last resort.”
While Israel already has about 100 GBU-28 bunker-buster munitions, the addition of 200 precision-guided GBU-31 bombs -- which have a Boeing Co. global positioning system tail-kit -- would increase the likelihood that a strike “would score a direct hit on its target,” the group said.
‘Credible Israeli Threat’
“While we do not advocate an Israeli military strike, we believe a more credible Israeli threat can only increase the pressure on Iran to negotiate,” Wald said in a written statement.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other U.S. officials have repeatedly warned Israel not to take action against Iran alone.
Alireza Nader, an analyst at the Rand Corp. who was co-author of a study on Israel and Iran, said sending Israel more bombs would be a mistake.
“It’s actually counterproductive,” Nader said in an interview. “It might compel the Iranian government to accelerate the nuclear program. They see a potential weapons capability as deterrence against the United State and Israel.”
Nader said diplomacy and sanctions are a wiser course, with recent sanctions having “raised the cost of weaponization for the Islamic Republic” as its economy weakens.
Gantz said international sanctions are starting to show some results. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Jan. 24 for China, India, Japan and South Korea to join in sanctions aimed at curtailing Iran’s nuclear program.
“Only a combination of paralyzing sanctions and a credible threat of ‘all options on the table’ will cause Iran to have second thoughts about its nuclear program,” Netanyahu told parliament in Jerusalem, according to a text message from his office.
The National Security Project, while endorsing more sanctions, expressed skepticism about their effectiveness since “even new ‘crippling’ sanctions are unlikely to threaten the viability of the Iranian regime -- the one motivation for Tehran to negotiate in good faith.”
A more credible military threat from Israel is required because Iran “could have the capacity to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear device in as little as two months” and “develop nuclear weapons capability” this year, according to the report.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, disputed the two-month timeline, saying such estimates were based on incorrect efficiency rates reported for Iran’s centrifuges.
“That’s just flat-out wrong,” Kimball said in an interview. “A nuclear-armed Iran is not imminent and it is not inevitable. These dire warnings are irresponsible and they don’t align with the best information of the U.S intelligence community.”
The U.S., its European allies and the International Atomic Energy Agency have said that while Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, there are indications it may still be trying to move toward a nuclear weapon. They have challenged the government in Tehran to prove that its nuclear work is intended only for energy and medical research, as Iranian officials maintain.
Nuclear talks this week between senior IAEA officials and members of Iran’s government progressed enough for both sides to commit to more negotiations, Chief Inspector Herman Nackaerts told reporters yesterday at Vienna International Airport after returning from Iran.
“There still is a lot of work to be done and so we have planned another trip in the very near future,” he said.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi called the outcome of the negotiations “very good,” state-run Fars news agency reported.