Could Israel destroy Iranian nukes

jerusalem | Israel would not be able to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations with a single air strike as it did in Iraq in 1981 because they are scattered or hidden and intelligence is weak, Israeli and foreign analysts say.

Israeli leaders have implied they might use force against Iran if international diplomatic efforts or the threat of sanctions fail to stop Iran from producing nuclear weapons.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said this month Israel is “taking measures to defend itself” — a comment that raised concern Israel is considering a pre-emptive strike along the lines of its 1981 bombing of an unfinished Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak near Baghdad.

Speculation has also been fueled by recent Israeli weapons acquisitions, including bunker-buster bombs and long-range fighter-bombers.

Israel’s national security adviser, Giora Eiland, was quoted Monday, Sept. 27, by the Ma’ariv daily as saying Iran will reach the “point of no return” in its nuclear weapons program by November rather than next year as Israeli military officials said earlier.

Concern about Tehran’s nuclear development intensified last week when Iran’s Vice President Reza Aghazadeh said Iran has started converting raw uranium into the gas needed for enrichment, an important step in making a nuclear bomb.

The declaration came in defiance of a resolution passed three days earlier by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, demanding Iran freeze all uranium enrichment — including conversion. The group’s 35-nation board of governors warned that Iran risked being taken before the U.N. Security Council, which could impose sanctions.

President Bush reiterated in an interview broadcast Sept. 27 that he would not tolerate Iran having nuclear weapons.

“My hope is that we can solve this diplomatically,” Bush said on Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor.” “We are working our hearts out so that they don’t develop a nuclear weapon, and the best way to do so is to continue to keep international pressure on them.”

Iran denies it is developing nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear development program is aimed at generating electricity. Israel and other countries, including the United States, doubt that.

Military and strategic analysts in Israel and abroad say even with the new weaponry, Israel lacks the ability to carry out a successful strike against Iran’s nuclear installations.

After Israel attacked the Osirak reactor, it came in for worldwide criticism. Arab opposition to an Israeli strike against Iran — particularly if it appeared to be unprovoked — would likely be widespread and intense. It could lead to attacks against Israeli and Jewish institutions abroad and condemnations from the United Nations.

Other difficulties in attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities include their dispersal throughout the country, their sophisticated defense systems and the likelihood that some of the installations have been replicated, said Cliff Kupchan, vice president of the Nixon Center in Washington. A former Clinton administration Iranian expert, Kupchan met with Iranian officials during a visit there last year.

He said International Atomic Energy Agency threats to impose sanctions on Iraq are unrealistic, because U.N members, including those with fledging nuclear programs, such as Brazil, would be reluctant to back them.

Kupchan said if diplomacy fails, there may be no choice but for the United States to lead a concerted military campaign against Iran. “If the U.S. moves aggressively, it won’t be sanctions, it will be a coalition of the willing,” he said.

Speaking at the United Nations last week, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom appeared to back him up.

“The time has come to move the Iranian case to the Security Council in order to put an end to this nightmare,” Shalom said.