According to Obama Administration officials, the U.S. and its allies still have a window to force concessions on Tehran's nuclear program. In recent testimony before Congress, senior intelligence officers suggested that Iran won't be able to produce a nuclear weapon until 2013 or 2014 at the earliest, providing time for new sanctions to take effect, and the execution of additional covert measures against Tehran.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a different perspective. Speaking with reporters during today's historic visit to Cyprus (the first-ever by an Israeli leader), Mr. Netanyahu suggested that sanctions aren't having their desired effect:
Iran is the most irresponsible force in the world, he said, claiming the sactions imposed on the Islamic Republic have not had an effect so far. According to Netanyahu, the regime in Tehran violates every resolution and has no respect for international norms.
He added that Iran's race towards nuclear weapons should concern the US and every other country. Nuclear arms in the hands of the Iranian regime is a cause for great concern to the US and Israel, he said.
Netanyahu's comments affirm that Israel has little confidence in the diplomatic approach and may be moving closer to a decision on military action against Tehran. Some analysts have suggested that an Israeli attack could come as early as this summer, before Iranian facilities become so dispersed (and extensively hardened) that a strike would not significantly affect Tehran's program.
While the White House remains firmly committed to sanctions and diplomacy, there are some signs that even Washington is hedging its bets. The Air Force began taking delivery of its 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator last fall, and the weapon's primary contractor (Boeing) recently received a new contract to develop even more powerful bombs. Just in case.
Meanwhile, Iran has been anything but idle. Along with its nuclear work, Tehran is maintaining a "robust" missile development program, according to the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess said that Iran has a missile arsenal "capable of reaching targets throughout the Middle East and into eastern Europe. That latter comment appears to be a reference to the Iranian BM-25 program. The missile, based on a retired Russian SLBM, was acquired by Iran several years ago; Burgesses' comments are the first to suggest the system may be operational or will soon achieve IOC.
Given Iran's continued progress in these areas, it's little wonder that Israel has its doubts about the effectivness of sanctions and diplomacy. But with "time" being the new mantra in Washington, Israel has equally grave doubts about our willingness to to strike Iran, even with more "bunker busters" in the inventory.