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

    Republicans Struggle With Reality of Trump Nomination

    Despite calls for unity by presumptive presidential nominee, analysts see inevitable fragmentation of party ahead of November election and beyond

    Spanish Warrants Point to Russian Govt. Links to Organized Crime

    Links to several Russians, some of them reputedly close Putin associates, backed by ‘very strong evidence,’ Spanish judge says

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    Iraq needs stable, central government to push back against Islamic State, US says, but others warn that Baghdad may not have unified front any time soon

    This forum has been closed.
    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.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora