Jerusalem, Israel: Media reports about the brewing crisis over the Iranian nuclear weapons program are sobering but it’s difficult to know who to believe. So, I traveled to Israel and Jordan to gather insights regarding local perceptions of Tehran’s atomic threat.
I spoke with defense and intelligence experts, political figures and average citizens in both countries. Four experts provided especially insightful perspectives. These men agree that Iran is a serious world threat and the United States should take the lead in dealing with Tehran.
Major General Jacob Amidror is the former deputy military intelligence chief for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). He is resigned to the view that it’s “only a matter of time” before Iran has a nuclear weapon.
In 1995, Amidror visited American officials to convince them that Iran was a rising nuclear power and action was required. Unfortunately, US officials were skeptical because there was no “smoking gun,” Amidror explained. The “smoking gun” surfaced when evidence was found on an Iranian laptop computer outlining Tehran’s nuclear activities.
Amidror believes Iran will require five to 10 years to field a nuclear weapon. He says his government has undertaken a three pronged effort to address the rising threat.
First, Israel is acting politically by lobbying governments to undertake diplomatic and economic efforts to stop Tehran from going beyond uranium enrichment for power generation. Recently, Israeli officials have aggressively pressed their case for action.
Last week, following Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tehran, the Russian president announced he saw no “objective data” to prove Western claims that Iran was seeking nuclear weapons. Putin also warned the West against attacking Iran.
Three days later, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rushed to Moscow to confer with Putin about “serious and important” issues regarding Iran. After their three hour meeting, Olmert said he was “satisfied” with what he heard from Putin. Two days later, a Russian delegation was in Jerusalem for talks that included the Iranian nuclear issue.
While the Russian delegation was in Jerusalem, Olmert was in France meeting with President Nicolas Sarkozy and in London with Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Both leaders are critical of Iran’s nuclear program.
Second, Israel is accelerating its development of a ballistic missile defense shield. Amidror is encouraged by the development of the Arrow “interceptor” which is designed to intercept ballistic missiles on a national level. He favors development of a multilayered anti-missile umbrella of defense system, however, to counter the growing Persian menace.
Last summer, Tehran’s guerrilla proxy Hezbollah launched thousands of short-range rockets into the Hebrew state. Israel believes that such rockets could be fitted with more devastating warheads in the future. Israel needs, therefore, a comprehensive interceptor system to knock down short, medium and long-range missiles.
Last week, Iranian General Mahmoud Chaharbaghi, the missile commander of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, said his nation is capable of firing 11,000 rockets into enemy bases within the first minute after any possible attack. Although Israeli officials dismiss the threat as exaggerated, they understand that Iran has substantial missile capabilities.
Finally, General Amidror indicates that Israel’s military planners are constantly updating options to destroy Iran’s nuclear threat. He provided no details but expressed skepticism that Israel could unilaterally conduct such an operation successfully.
Some Jordanians share Israeli concerns that Iran is a serious threat. Akel Biltaji is a serving Jordanian senator, a member of the upper house of parliament, and a former minister for the late King Hussein. Senator Biltaji labels Iran “a monster” and partially blames the US for the creation of the Persian menace. Specifically, Biltaji said President Bush’s recent statement that Iran gaining nuclear know-how could lead to “World War III” was troubling even though he agrees with the assertion. He’s emphatic, however, that Iran “must be dealt with” soon.
The Gaza born Palestinian warns that Israel must be kept out of any solution regarding the Iranian nuclear problem. He believes Israel’s involvement would undermine that effort and could backfire.
Biltaji favors a two part solution. First, he encourages the west led by the US to conduct a surgical strike to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Second, the West must create a model state in Iraq. Biltaji believes a robust Iraqi economy and reliable public services would convince the Iranian public to shun Islamic radicalism in favor of the benefits of freedom they see next door.
Moshe Arens, Israel’s minister of defense three times and foreign minister once, served as ambassador to the US after the successful Israeli strike on Iraq’s Osirack reactor in 1981, which broke Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program.
Arens acknowledged that the Iranian nuclear infrastructure is far more complex than Saddam’s single reactor. Thus, any military strike today would be significantly more challenging. He explained that, with North Korean assistance, the Iranians have located numerous nuclear facilities deep underground making their destruction difficult.
Arens, now Chairman of the International Board of Governors of the Ariel University Center of Samaria, says Iran “is the most serious threat” facing his nation. He believes that the US rather than Israel is in the better position to counter the threat.
Uzi Arad is the former Director of Intelligence for the Mossad, Israel’s ultra-secret intelligence agency. The former spy is not shy about labeling Iran a rising force and much more threatening than Saddam was before the war. Arad quoted Bernhard Lewis, perhaps the West’s foremost Mideast expert, who said that the situation in the Mideast today is like “1938 all over again.”
Arad cautions that once Tehran has nuclear weapons it will proliferate the technology. In 20 years, unless something is done about Iran’s nuclear program, he believes there could be up to seven nuclear powers in the Mideast. He suggests that Saudi Arabia may already have an agreement with Pakistan to provide weapons for cash.
Arad estimates that Iran possesses the scientific knowledge to overcome nuclear weapon fabrication challenges and is only a couple years away from having its first atomic weapon. He confirmed Iranian claims to having 3,000 operational uranium enriching centrifuges. That’s enough, says Arad, to produce up to two bombs worth of highly enriched uranium annually. Tehran also has a plutonium program and is believed to have accessed fissile material on the black market.
Military action will likely be required to deny Iran a nuclear arsenal so Arad has approached Prime Minister Olmert and warned him to prepare for the day he must decide whether to strike Iranian nuclear facilities. Arad’s warning? “Brace yourself for that fateful day.”
What’s clear to these gentlemen is that Iran is determined to develop nuclear weapons and that would be catastrophic for the entire world. The US is the only power that can effectively stop them.