A military strike is among Israel’s options to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said on Wednesday in the latest threat by the Jewish state against its arch-foe.
Asked by a newspaper if Iranian atomic facilities could be bombed – a tactic Israel used to destroy Iraq’s main reactor in 1981 – Mofaz said: “All options for preventing this (Tehran obtaining nuclear weapons) will be considered.
“The important thing is to stop the current (Iranian) regime reaching a nuclear option,” Mofaz told Yedioth Ahronoth daily.
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi told CNN television on Tuesday that Iran is not trying to build a nuclear bomb, but it has developed long and medium-range missiles to defend itself against potential threats.
Asked if Iran was trying to develop nuclear weapons, Kharazi replied: “Not at all. We are against a nuclear bomb. And it’s not part of our defense strategy.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has called on Tehran to immediately halt all activities related to uranium enrichment, a process that can make the explosive material for nuclear weapons.
Kharazi said Iran wants to promote a nuclear-free Middle East and he stressed that UN weapons inspectors had not found any nuclear weapon programs in Iran.
Iran’s Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said on Saturday the army had taken delivery of a new “strategic missile” but it is unclear if the weapon is the Shahab-3 medium-range missile, acquired by the Revolutionary Guards in July.
The Shahab-3 is believed to be based on a North Korean design and is thought to be capable of carrying a one-ton warhead at least 1,300 kilometers, well within range of Israel and U.S. bases in the region.
Asked what Tehran would do if Israel launched an air strike against the country’s nuclear facilities, Kharazi replied: “We would be able to react. How we do react, I cannot tell you that.”
Washington is leading diplomatic pressure on Iran to come clean on its atomic program.
“The American … demands for invasive inspection, threat of sanctions – appear to be the right thing to do,” Mofaz said. “On the other hand, the Iranians are doing everything possible to buy time. The question is what will happen first – nuclear capability or a change in the regime?”
Israeli officials say Iran could produce atomic weapons by 2007, fueling speculation Israel may strike militarily first.
Widely believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear power, Israel plans to buy 500 “bunker buster” bombs from its U.S. ally that could be delivered by long-range jets and prove effective against Iran’s facilities, many of which are underground.
“It is possible that Western agencies, doubtful about the success of the diplomatic effort, prefer to have Israel act in their place,” the liberal Haaretz newspaper said on Wednesday.
“Nobody has asked Israel to refrain from a belligerent act.”
However military and strategic analysts in Israel and abroad say even with the new weaponry, Israel lacks the ability to carry out a successful strike against Iran’s nuclear installations.
“You have to have solid intelligence, you have to know what to hit … The intelligence on Iran is very weak,” said Alex Vatanka, an expert on Iranian security issues at Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessments in London.
Israeli strategic analyst Reuven Pedatzur pointed to a claim last year by Iranian opposition figures that foreign intelligence services have been unaware of two of the Iranian nuclear facilities.
“There is no good intelligence on Iran, and this is the proof,” he said. “Any Israeli attack on Iran would cause huge political damage, and in the end, the program would proceed.”
Other difficulties in attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities include their dispersal throughout the country, their sophisticated defense systems and the likelihood that some of the installations have been replicated, said Cliff Kupchan, vice president of the Nixon Center in Washington, a former Clinton administration Iranian expert who met with Iranian officials during a visit there last year.