JERUSALEM – Despite prolonged diplomatic efforts by much of the international community to convince Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program, a prominent former member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), along with a respected think tank, have confirmed what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told the U.S., EU and UN: Iran has essentially “passed the point of no return” and is only weeks away from assembling a nuclear weapon.
Former IAEA deputy director-general for safeguards Olli Heinonen, a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, said this week that Iran had passed the point of no return “in a certain way.” During a conference call initiated by the Israel Project, Heinonen added, “But we have to remember the capabilities of Iran. People have slightly different definitions of what constitutes breakout capability. However, you still don’t have a nuclear weapon. Preparing the highly enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb would take another month or two, assuming that someone has all the knowledge.” And even if the Iranians have “all the knowledge,” Heinonen stressed that it would take the Iranian Revolutionary Guards nearly a year to perfect its attachment to a ballistic missile.
Last week, a website news report issued by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) said that Iran currently possessed enough uranium to assemble one atomic bomb if it converted all of its 20-percent enriched hexafluoride stockpile within a four-to-six-week time frame.
Diplomatic negotiations with Iranian interlocutors are expected to resume in Vienna late next week. High-ranking Israeli and Saudi government officials have warned the White House that unless the Iranians are presented with an ultimatum to halt its uranium enrichment program and ship it out of the country, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, would give a green light to assembling a nuclear weapon.
Prior to a phone conference with President Obama on Monday evening, Netanyahu told his cabinet that he wasn’t “impressed by the discussion surrounding the issue of 20-percent enrichment.”
Iran, he added, is “intentionally focusing the discussion on this issue. It is without importance. Its importance is superfluous as a result of the improvements the Iranians have made in the past year, which allows them to jump over the barrier of 20 percent enrichment and proceed directly from 3.5 percent enrichment to 90 percent within weeks – weeks at most. Therefore there is no significance to the discussion about 20 percent, which Iran seemingly will not give in on…. It has no importance; it is a tactical move. In effect, Iran, which has violated all Security Council decisions on preventing it from enrichment at any level, has no right to enrich.”
Netanyahu said Israel was “willing to stand alone in the face of world opinion or changing fashion. But in fact we are not alone because most, if not all, leaders, those with whom I have spoken, agree with us. There are those who say so fully, and there are those who whisper, and there are those who say so privately. But everyone understands that Iran cannot be allowed to retrain the ability to be within reach of nuclear weapons.”
Meanwhile, IDF Gen. Ido Nehushtan, a former Israel Air Force commander in chief, told a public forum in Beersheba last weekend that if Israel had no choice but to attack Iran’s various nuclear and missile facilities without the assistance of the United States and Western allies, the IAF had the capability to seriously cripple the Iranian nuclear program but not destroy it. “Israel could set back the Iranian program by several years,” he said. Rumors circulating in the Israeli media said that Netanyahu could order a lightning attack against Iran as soon as January if diplomatic efforts by the West fail.