If anyone was hoping for a thaw in relations between Israel and Iran, think again. Iran's new President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejab, has declared the Jewish state "a disgraceful blot" that "should be wiped off the map." Ahmadeinjab made the comments before a "World Without Zionism" conference, held in Tehran.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan reacted quickly, saying that Ahmadinejab's statements show that U.S. fears about Iran's nuclear program are indeed justified. As is often the case, the White House Press Secretary's remarks were a masterful understatement. Any thoughts that Iran might abandon its nuclear weapons development program were dashed when Ahmadinejab won the Iranian Presidential election back in August. A student leader of the 1979 Khomeinin Revolution, Ahmadinejab appears firmly committed to Iran's development, deployment and potential proliferation of nuclear weapons.
And how much progress has Tehran made toward accomplishing that goal? The weapons question remains difficult to answer; while the IC has focused much of its attention on Iran's four primary (and known) nuclear complexes, the real question is how many covert facilities Tehran may have, and what activitise are underway at that site. Most weapons-related functions, including fuel processing and/or enrichment, can be easily concealed in nondescript warehouse facilities that are difficult to detect. It is entirely possible that Tehran may have enough convert complexes to complete development and fabrication of a bomb, while EU negotiators (and much of the intel community) ponder activity at the known sites.
Meanwhile, Iran already has a delivery system (or systems) for its nukes. Last year, Tehran began deployment of the Shahab-3 medium range missile, capable of hitting targets in Israel. These missiles are concealed in underground bunkers and complexes near Khorramabad, Bakhtaran and Tabriz; tracking them is difficult, and Iran's growing reliance on underground storage and related deception activities suggests efforts to develop a covert strike capability, allowing them to launch against Israel (or U.S. targets in the Gulf Region) with little or no warning.
Tehran has also been busy with the third leg of its nuclear strike option, acquiring large quantities of satellite imagery from foreign suppliers, and improving its ability to collect and process such products in near-real-time. Amng the areas reportedly covered by the satellite images: Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa.
Given these realities, Ahmadinejab's comments are clearly more than mere rhetoric. Iran is clearly developing the weapons, missile systems and targeting information to launch a potential nuclear strike against Israel. A better question might be: just exactly how long will Israel allow Iran to develop these capabilities, without launching a preemptive strike. One thing is certain: Ahmadinejab's inflamed comments will certainly attract Israeli attention, and increase chances for a surprise visit by the Israeli Air Force.