Israel knows it needs to coordinate its strategy on Iran with other nations and that attacking Teheran’s nuclear facilities would mean “big trouble,” CIA director Leon Panetta said on Wednesday.
Acknowledging that he had recently traveled to Israel to meet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and warn him against a strike on Iran, the CIA chief told Global Viewpoint that he “felt assured” Israel would not break ranks with Washington’s strategy.
“Yes,” he said, “the Israelis are obviously concerned about Iran and focused on it. But [Netanyahu] understands that if Israel goes it alone, it will mean big trouble. He knows that for the sake of Israeli security, they have to work together with others.”
Panetta said that the threat posed by Iran “has our full attention,” asserting that despite the Obama administration’s strategic decision to engage Teheran diplomatically, “no one is naïve about the challenges.”
Panetta reiterated the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which assessed that Iran had halted its active nuclear weaponization program in 2003, but warned that “at a minimum,” the Islamic republic was “keeping open the option to develop deliverable nuclear weapons” and “continues to develop uranium enrichment technology and nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.”
The CIA head said assessing Iran’s intentions was “a top priority” for the US. He added that Iran was “not an easy intelligence target.”
According to Panetta, while the Iranian nuclear program was cause for significant concern in and of itself, there was also a real risk that if Iran went nuclear, other countries in the region would try to catch up.
“The last thing we need in the Middle East is a nuclear arms race,” he said.
Panetta also said the US was trying to assess North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and its long-range missile capabilities. He expressed great concern over North Korea’s willingness to “sell technology and expertise to anyone willing to pay.”
Panetta said the US had good intelligence on both North Korea and Iran, but added that “given [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-Il’s health problems and issues of succession, North Korea remains one of the most difficult and unpredictable threats in that part of the world.”