That doesn’t mean Iran is definitely a mere months away from a nuclear warhead. Hague pointed out that the fuel process is just one of the necessities for a weapon, saying there remain “technical challenges” to Iran developing an actual nuclear bomb.
Accumulating the fuel will take time as well. In an interview with Bridges for Peace in June, Paul Brannan, senior analyst from the US-based Institute for Science and International Security think-tank, said Iran had more than a quarter of the estimated research-grade fuel needed to be further enriched for a bomb. While that took a little more than year to produce, Iran’s expansion of the program would presumably speed up the process.
In addition, the process of moving ahead and developing weapons-grade nuclear fuel would potentially expose Iran’s intentions to the world and put them at risk of military action. Therefore, it is unclear when Iran would even attempt that final two-to-three month process.
However, Hague has no doubts about the Iranian intentions in their expansion of the research-grade enrichment. In his column, Hague rejected Iranian claims that the 20% research level enrichment is for civilian purposes. He noted that the increase in the program is out of step with civilian goals for the Islamic Republic—both in terms of diverting resources from the nuclear power program and in making an excessive amount of the research-grade fuel.
“There is one clear purpose for this enriched uranium. Enrichment from natural uranium to 20% is the most time consuming and resource-intensive step in making the highly enriched uranium required for a nuclear weapon,” wrote Hague. “And when enough 20% enriched uranium is accumulated at the underground facility at Qom, it would take only two or three months of additional work to convert this into weapons grade material. There would remain technical challenges to actually producing a bomb, but Iran would be a significant step closer.”
There is a danger to the entire region—not just Israel—if Iran got the bomb, as Hague noted it could inspire a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, a former spokesperson for the US State Department has flatly rejected a presumptuous claim by a former intelligence officer that Israel could soon attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. Robert Baer, a former CIA officer, expressed his guess on the Background Briefing radio program, as heard on radio station KPFK’s Web site, that Israel was planning to attack Iran, perhaps even this September.
Former State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley firmly dismissed the claims, saying via Twitter that the idea that Israel would attack Iran soon is “not credible. The strategic costs, while not static, still outweigh the prospects of success.”
Background Briefing’s host, Ian Masters, and Baer both presented an Israeli strike as a negative for the US and the region and were highly critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Notably absent from the conversation was any discussion of the danger of terrorism-sponsoring Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Israel has openly expressed concern over Iran’s nuclear program and called for international action for years, although it has generally let the US and Europe take the practical lead in the world’s approach to Tehran. The Iranians are under multiple sets of international sanctions due their illegal nuclear program.
Baer did not cite specific Israeli sources for his assumption of a pending Israeli strike, aside from acknowledging he felt public comments from former Israeli intelligence and military officials discouraging an attack showed Netanyahu was planning one, guessing it would occur in September.
He did say there was a “warning order” in the US Pentagon [Defense Department headquarters] to “prepare for conflict with Iran,” as Baer claimed that while the US would not launch an attack, an Israeli strike and Iranian response would drag the US into the conflict. He also said that US special forces were looking at Iranian targets in Iraq and Iran for a possible response to an Iranian counterstrike against US forces in the region.
“What we’re facing here is an escalation, not a planned out and out war,” Baer told Background Briefing. He said that if he were “forced to bet,” he’d say that a conflict would occur in the next couple months, “unless this is just a masterful bluff,” which he thought was unlikely.
Ironically, Masters had expressed concern that such an attack could prevent more political change in the region, but Crowley pointed to the Arab uprisings, or Arab Spring, as a reason Israel would not strike. Crowley tweeted that the Arab Spring has “sufficiently complicated” Israel’s strategic considerations, so that it is “more likely to show restraint in the immediate term.”
Posted on July 20, 2011
Source: (By Joshua Spurlock, BFP Israel Mosaic Radio, July 20, 2011)
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