Israel has for some time warned of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the danger they pose.
Tuesday’s announcement from Tehran raised the level of concern.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proudly announced that Iran had successfully enriched uranium – the essential building block to produce both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.
That development comes as no surprise, says Israeli lawmaker Yuval Steinitz, who heads the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
“I said three or four months ago that I assume this spring the Iranians will make such an achievement and such an announcement and now it should be clear and obvious that the Iranians are running to [toward developing] nuclear bombs if there will be no serious obstacles,” said Steinitz.
Israeli officials dismiss Iran’s assurances that it seeks only peaceful nuclear power and not weapons. Some have indicated that if the international community does not take a tougher approach toward Tehran, Israel might consider a unilateral military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
But Israel’s military chief of staff, General Dan Halutz, cautioned against reaching, what he called “foregone conclusions.” He said it will take some time before Iran achieves real nuclear capability and much can change in the meantime.
Israeli political leader and elder statesman Shimon Peres called for patience and diplomacy.
Peres told Israel Radio the United States is already taking the lead on this issue and he said Israel should hold back even in its rhetoric.
So far, international diplomacy has not succeeded in stopping Iran’s nuclear plans and recent American news reports have said that the Bush administration is studying military strike options against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
U.S. officials were quick to describe those reports as mere speculation.
“The United States of America is on a diplomatic track. That is the president’s decision. That’s where our European allies are,” said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Israeli lawmaker Yuval Steinitz doubts that diplomacy or even tough sanctions will be effective against Iran.
“They’re so close to their goal to threaten not just the Middle East and Israel, but the entire world because now they’re building missiles with the range of Europe already and the next generation [of missiles] will reach the east coast of the United States,” he said. “I’m skeptical if they will give up due to pressure. Let’s hope so.”
Israel’s own nuclear capability is often described as an “open secret.” Israel will neither confirm nor deny that it has nuclear weapons, but outside experts believe it has 100 to 200 nuclear warheads in its arsenal.
Steinitz says the threat of a nuclear Iran is serious enough to consider other options.
“I think the West, under the leadership of the United States, will have to consider also brute force in order to pre-empt and prevent a devastating threat to world peace – nuclear weapons in the hands of fundamentalist ayatollahs that are ready to sacrifice millions,” he added.
But, says Steinitz, military force might not be necessary if Iran is convinced that such an option is under serious consideration. He says that could be the “big stick” that might make Tehran think twice.