Yaakov Katz – Jerusalem Post October 9, 2011
The chance for a military strike to succeed in stopping Iran’s race toward a nuclear weapon is becoming “slimmer” as Tehran continues to produce and disperse its enriched uranium and technology, according to Prof. Avner Cohen, a premier Israeli-American scholar on nuclear proliferation.
“I think we are moving to the point that the chance of success for doing something effective militarily is getting slimmer,” Cohen warned in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
“The fact that the Iranian nuclear program is further dispersed, that the time for Iran to reach a breakout capability gets shorter and that material can be moved quickly from site to site, would require a very dynamic intelligence capability to know where everything is,” he said.
A professor and senior fellow at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California, Cohen has written two groundbreaking books on Israel’s nuclear program – Israel and the Bomb and The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb.
Furthermore, according to Cohen, even if Israel had all of the intelligence it would still be impossible “to know that you know everything important since you do not know what you do not know.”
Israel and other Western countries have expressed concern in the past that Iran might have additional undeclared nuclear facilities.
Cohen stressed that he did not currently advocate military action.
At the same time, he said that Iran’s “salami approach” – dispersing its enriched uranium to a number of facilities, its general policy of making only small and invisible-like advances in its program, as well as its proven ability to enrich uranium to 20 percent levels – showed that “Iran is not only positioning itself on the bomb threshold, but it appears to gear itself to slowly crossing the threshold and becoming a nuclear weapon state.”
Iran recently announced that it is moving an advanced new centrifuge into the Fordo facility near Qom.
“Some Americans with access to intelligence believe that the window for the military option is closing and growing slimmer,” he said.
Cohen said that Iran was working under a policy of nuclear ambiguity, similar to Israel’s policy, under which Israel neither confirms nor denies its nuclear status. Like Israel, he said that Iran could eventually redefine what it means to be a nuclear state.
Last week, the Post reported on concerns within Israel that Iran was adopting such a policy.
“Given the increasing quantities that Iran is enriching to 20%, they are increasingly shortening the time they need to reach the so-called breakout stage, which means that the warning time is getting shorter and shorter to the point that it becomes meaningless,” he said. “Their opacity policy aims to blur and obscure the very issue of possession and non-possession of nuclear weapons.”
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s visit to Israel last week, Cohen said, was likely part of an American effort to ensure that Israel is not planning any unilateral military steps that would not be coordinated first with Washington.
“The US wants itself, and also Israel, to be engaged in a thorough effort to contain Iran – like the way the Soviet Union was contained during the Cold War – meaning that for all practical purposes and short of extreme circumstances, both the US and Israel would have to put aside the military option and instead work to contain Iran,” Cohen said.
“My gut sense is that something happened in recent weeks which was interpreted as if Israel had made clear that the military option is alive and kicking, and Panetta wanted to make sure that Israeli independent action will not happen,” he said.