A senior Israeli nuclear expert has challenged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assessment of Iran’s progress toward obtaining nuclear weapons, Ynet reported.
Brigadier General (res.) Uzi Eilam, who for a decade headed the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, does not believe that Tehran is anywhere near to having a bomb, and that it might not even be interested in building one.
“The Iranian nuclear program will only be operational in another 10 years,” Eilam said. “Even so, I am not sure that Iran wants the bomb.”
Eilam’s comment is unprecedented, the first from an authoritative source to so strongly take issue with Netanyahu’s pronouncements on Iran. Until now, criticism has come from political and security establishment figures. Prior to his tenure at the Atomic Energy Commission, Eilam directed the IDF’s Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure (Mafat).
“From being involved in many technology projects, I have learned the hard way that things take time,” he says. “Netanyahu and other politicians have struck terrible, unnecessary fear into the hearts of the Israeli public, and thankfully the flames fanned over the issue seemed to have died down for now.”
He also argued that, whatever stage Iran’s nuclear program has reached, a military strike would be counter-productive.
“The statements and threats made regarding an attack on Iran did not help,” Eilam says. “We cannot lead the charge on this front. As far as the project goes, Iran’s nuclear facilities are scattered and buried under tons of earth, concrete and steel. This would require more than one strike, such as on the nuclear reactors in Iraq and Syria. A strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would in effect be the opening salvo in all-out war.”
In contrast to Netanyahu’s condemnation of the nuclear agreement being negotiated between Iran and the West, Eilam is supportive:
“According to reports, the steps Iran has taken are most significant, the primary step being the dilution of more than half of its enriched fuel,” he says, referring to the Iranian decision to dilute its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium to 5-percent grade uranium.
“The main issues are still ahead of us, but it is definitely possible to be optimistic. I think we should give the diplomatic process a serious chance, alongside ongoing sanctions. And I’m not even sure that Iran would want the bomb — it could be enough for them to be a nuclear threshold state — so that it could become a regional power and intimidate its neighbors.”
If Iran is really so far from its nuclear objectives, why does Netanyahu claim otherwise?
“Netanyahu is using the Iranian threat to achieve a variety of political objectives,” he said. “These declarations are unnecessarily scaring Israel’s citizens, given Israel is not party to the negotiations to determine whether Iran will or will not dismantle its nuclear program.”