Israel has revised downward its assessment of when Iran might acquire nuclear weapons.
Israel believes that Iran will not be able to produce a nuclear bomb before 2015. That is the assessment of the outgoing head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, Meir Dagan, in a briefing published on Friday. Previous Israeli estimates suggested that Iran could have the bomb in a year or two.
Dagan based his revised assessment on several factors, including domestic unrest in Iran, the bite of international sanctions and technical difficulties.
Israeli analyst Gerald Steinberg says one technical problem is foreign sabotage, such as the Stuxnet computer virus, which invaded Iran's nuclear facilities. It is widely believed that the virus was planted by Israel.
"There's a lot that's happened. We've seen this worm, this virus that's attacked the computers that run the Iranian uranium enrichment process,” Steinberg said. “We've seen some scientists who have been killed and injured, people who are working on the nuclear enrichment program in Iran, and we've seen sanctions. When you put those pieces together, it makes sense to see a slowdown in the process."
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. But Israel disagrees and, although officially supporting diplomatic efforts to dampen Iran's nuclear ambitions has not ruled out the possibility of a military stirke against Iran's nuclear facilities.
Steinberg believes that in light of the new assessment, an Israeli attack is now on the back burner.
"A military operation has always been the last resort, the least desirable option,” Steinberg added. “So that if now the assessment is that Iran is not up close to the finish line and will take some time to recover and the world’s got another four or five years to stop Iran; then I think that the military option is still going to be on the table, but it's going to be way in the back."
Still, Israel wants the world to step up the pressure on Iran. Israeli officials say the only way to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is to impose tougher sanctions backed up by a credible military threat.