Sunday, February 01, 2009

Advance the Clock

Just five days ago, we noted the apparent inevitability of an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. Comparing that possibility to the famous "Doomsday Clock" (made famous by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists), we calculated that, if an Israeli attack is depicted in those terms, then the "strike clock" now reads two minutes until midnight.

And it may be time to advance the hands yet again. Benjamin Netanyahu, the man who will most likely be the next Prime Minister of Israel, has reiterated his determination to halt Tehran's nuclear ambitions. In a TV interview just weeks before the Israeli election, Mr. Netanyahu stated flatly that "Iran will not be armed with a nuclear weapon."

In an interview with Israel's Channel 2 TV, Netanyahu said if elected prime minister his first mission will be to thwart the Iranian nuclear threat. Netanyahu, the current opposition leader and head of the hardline Likud party, called Iran the greatest danger to Israel and to all humanity.

When asked if stopping Iran's nuclear ambitions included a military strike, he replied: "It includes everything that is necessary to make this statement come true."

Mr. Netanyahu's remarks were part of an interview with all three candidates for Prime Minister. Opinion polls show Netanyahu with a lead over Ehud Barak's Labor Party, and and Kadima's Tipi Livni, just nine days before the election.

The interview format was odd, at least by American standards. While the candidates were together in a Channel 2 studio, they did not debate each other. Instead, they responded to questions from You Tube users. Netanyahu was the only candidate asked about the Iranian threat; Mr. Barak (the current Defense Minister) and Ms. Livni, the Foreign Minister, were asked about how they would respond to the Hamas rocket threat.

Netanyahu's comments were the latest indication that the next Israeli government will deal decisively with Iran. Last week, the respected International Institute for Strategic Studies predicted that Tehran will have enough fissile material for at least one nuclear weapon by the end of 2009.

While that doesn't mean that Iran will have a ready-made bomb within twelve months, it is a reminder that Tehran is approaching the point of no return. As their stockpile of enriched uranium continues to grow, the Iranians will be able to create a small nuclear arsenal, even if Israel strikes key nuclear sites. Timing for the attack is also being influenced by Tehran's pending acquisition of the S-300 air defense system. When the S-300 achieves operational capability--probably later this year--Israeli operational planning will become much more complicated.

The third factor is the recent change in the White House, and Israeli perceptions that Barack Obama will be more conciliatory toward Iran. So far, the new president has done little to dissuade that notion. There are unconfirmed reports that the administration is crafting a new letter to the Iranian leadership, and just lask week, Mr. Obama said he wanted a "comprehensive approach" toward Iran, with diplomacy (presumably) taking the lead.

It's little wonder that Israel feels increasingly isolated, and believes it has no choice but to deal with Iran on its own. Mr. Netanyahu's remarks don't guarantee an Israeli attack, but prospects for that option have certainly increased, given the likelihood that Likud will win next week's election.

We'd say President Obama's "comprehensive solution" will soon be overcome by events. The strike clock now reads 90 seconds to midnight--and ticking.

1 comment:

SChaser said...

I'd take anything coming from Israeli politicians right now with a grain of sodium chloride.

Their election is near and thus it is hard to discern their intent from their political pronouncements.

On the other hand, Netanyahu is a hawk.

As for the uranium, it appears it is so far only slightly enriched (3-4$) and it would have to be HEU before it was usable for a weapon.

I think the process of going from LEU to HEU is the same as getting to LEU in the first place, but there's probably a technological barrier or two in there somewhere. On the other hand, they may very well have gotten help from a country that has already mastered that.

Once they have HEU, it's done. Anyone with an engineering degree and access to the internet and a machine shop could make a gun-assembly type weapon at that point.

Note also that the US 280mm was an HEU assembly device, and it was certainly small for a terrorist to use.