News / Middle East

US Concerns Grow Over Possible Israeli Strike on Iran

Iranian students form a human chain around the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility in support of Iran's nuclear program, just outside the city of Isfahan, 410 kilometers (255 miles) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, Nov. 15, 2011 (file photo).
Iranian students form a human chain around the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility in support of Iran's nuclear program, just outside the city of Isfahan, 410 kilometers (255 miles) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, Nov. 15, 2011 (file photo).
Gary Thomas

Talk of a possible attack on Iranian nuclear facilities is again rumbling in Tehran, Jerusalem, and Washington. Israel is reported to be increasingly anxious about Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program and at least one U.S. official is reported to be warning that an Israeli attack is not far off.

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Virginia, January 5, 2012 (file photo).
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Virginia, January 5, 2012 (file photo).

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak says the world is running out of time to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons power.  U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is reported to believe Israel could launch strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities within the next five months. 

Iranian officials deny any intention to build nuclear weapons and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei warned Friday Iran will retaliate in full force if its nuclear facilities are attacked.

But there are differences between the U.S. and Israel over how to deal with the situation. 
A 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran - the highest collective judgment of all U.S. intelligence agencies - said that while Iran was making technical advances, it had not yet committed to actually assembling nuclear weapons.

In a 2009 VOA interview, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta predicted Iran could have a nuclear bomb sometime between 2010 and 2015, but had not yet decided whether to take that final step.

"Well, our view is and our intelligence is that while they are proceeding to develop a nuclear capability in terms of power and low-grade uranium that there's still very much a debate going on within Iran as to whether they should proceed further," Panetta said at the time.

Iran Intelligence Revised

A revised intelligence estimate last year came to the same conclusion about Iran's nuclear program, U.S. officials said.

"They (the Iranians) are certainly moving on that path, but we don't believe they've actually made the decision to go ahead with a nuclear weapon," James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, told a congressional committee on Tuesday.

But the view is very different in Jerusalem, where Iran's nuclear program is seen as a threat to Israel's very existence.   

Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, writing in the prestigious New York Times Magazine Jan. 25, quoted top officials in Jerusalem as saying that Israel could not wait much longer before striking Iran's nuclear facilities.

Iran has so far enriched uranium to a level of 20 percent purity.  Experts say Iran would have to reach at least 90 percent to use it in a weapon.

"If Iran is indeed enriching to bomb grade - and I haven't seen anything suggesting that we know that they are or that we strongly suspect that they are - then they're that much closer to the proverbial one screw turn away (from a bomb)," Thomas Fingar, former chairman of the U.S. intelligence Council, told VOA this week.  

"Uranium is the critical dimension, and in the time line that was laid out in the public portion of the 2007 estimate, we're in the window, the first half of this decade," Fingar added.

Washington Prefers Sanctions

The Obama administration is opposed to any military action against Iran at this time, and is instead counting on stiffer international sanctions against Iran's critical oil industry to force Tehran away from any weapons development.  

Fingar backs that strategy, adding that a preemptive attack on Iran could backfire.

"If it's correct that Tehran has not yet made the decision to go for a bomb, attacking the facilities would seem to greatly increase the likelihood of rallying the (Iranian) public behind not just the nuclear program and the government, but the need to have an independent deterrent capability, a nuclear deterrent capability," Fingar said.  

Intelligence analysts say it is difficult to determine when Iran crosses the so-called "red line" into nuclear weapons production because so much of the technical work is "dual use" - usable for both military and peaceful purposes.

CIA Director David Petraeus told a congressional committee this week a key indicator would be if Iran begins enriching uranium to 90 percent purity.

"There's no commercial use for that arguably- in fact, not arguably," Petraeus said. "I think factually the amount of 20 percent enriched uranium that they have exceeds any requirement, for example, for the Tehran Research Reactor for the foreseeable future."

But while Washington has publicly spelled out its so-called "red line" on Iranian nuclear development, Israel has not.

Some U.S. officials worry that the "red line" for Israel may be when Iran moves key sections of its nuclear facilities to hardened underground sites out of the reach of missiles and bombs.

Whatever its threshold, Israeli Defense Minister Barak said this week Israel cannot wait until it is reached.  "Whoever says later," Barak told a gathering of security experts, "may find out that 'later' is too late."

As if to emphasize his point for a Western audience, he switched from Hebrew to English for the phrase.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs