Israel says Iran has material for four A-bombs


Israel estimated on Thursday that Iran could make four atomic bombs by further enriching uranium it has already stockpiled, and could produce its first within a year of deciding to build one.

But in his rare public remarks, Major-General Aviv Kochavi, chief of military intelligence, held out the possibility stronger international sanctions might dissuade Tehran from pursuing a policy he had no doubt was aimed at developing nuclear weapons, despite Iranian denials.

Citing figures similar to those from the U.N. nuclear agency, Kochavi told Israel’s annual Herzliya Conference on strategic affairs: “Iran has accumulated more than 4 tonnes of uranium enriched to a level of 3.5 percent and nearly 100 kilos at an enrichment level of 20 percent.

“This amount of material is already enough for four atomic bombs.”

Nuclear bombs require uranium enriched to 90 percent, but Western experts say much of the effort required to get there is already achieved once it reaches 20-percent purity, shortening the time needed for any nuclear weapons “break-out.”

One former U.N. inspector said last month Iran could have enough 20-percent uranium for one bomb – about 250 kg of the material – in about a year from now.

Tehran says it will use 20 percent-enriched uranium to convert into fuel for a research reactor making isotopes to treat cancer patients. Western officials say they doubt that the country has the technical capability to do that.

Referring to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in whose country’s hands Israel believe a nuclear weapon would threaten the survival of the Jewish state, Kochavi said:

“From the moment Khamenei gives an order … to speed up production of the first nuclear explosive device, we estimate it will take about a year to complete the task.”

Arming a missile with a nuclear warhead, he added, could take a year or two longer.

Western experts’ estimates of how quickly Iran could assemble a nuclear weapon if it decides to do so range from as little as six months to a year or more. Some believe Iran hopes to develop nuclear technology but stop short of building weapons, a move from which it is barred by treaty commitments.

In a report in November, the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran had almost 5 tonnes of low-enriched uranium and, citing data from September, 73.7 kg of uranium with a purity of 20 percent.

“Iran continues to contend that its program is for peaceful and civilian purposes,” Kochavi said.

“But a long series of solid, strong data in our hands prove beyond any doubt that Iran is continuing to engage in developing nuclear weapons,” he said in the speech, in which he steered clear of discussing Israel’s military options.

Israel, widely believed to possess the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, has said it would use force if necessary to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

It has made little comment on Iranian accusations that its agents, along with those of its Western allies, are behind assassinations and explosions that appear to form part of a covert war to sabotage Iran’s nuclear development capacity.

In separate remarks in Tel Aviv, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said “we are in a period of diplomacy and sanctions” in trying to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“It is clear to all that there is no need to take any option off the table, that there needs to be intensive and urgent diplomacy and that sanctions on Iran need to include not only on oil but on the financial system and the central bank,” Barak told reporters.

Washington and the European Union have imposed tighter sanctions in recent weeks on both Iran’s oil exports and on international financial transactions with Tehran.

Kochavi said the current sanctions have not led to a change in Iranian strategy, but could still have an effect.

“But the stronger the (pressure), the greater the potential for the regime – which is worried first and foremost about its survival – to reconsider,” he said.

Tension between Iran and the West over Iran’s nuclear work has increased since November, when the IAEA published a report that said Tehran appeared to have worked on designing a nuclear weapon.

Iran says its nuclear energy program is peaceful and aimed at generating electricity and other civilian uses.

Editing by Alastair Macdonald

Ehud Barak plays down talk of war with Iran


Defense Minister Ehud Barak played down Tuesday speculation that Israel intends to strike Iranian nuclear facilities, saying no decision had been made on embarking on a military operation.

“War is not a picnic. We want a picnic. We don’t want a war,” Barak told Israel Radio before the release this week of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran’s nuclear activity.

“(Israel) has not yet decided to embark on any operation,” he said, dismissing as “delusional” Israeli media speculation that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had chosen that course.

But he said Israel had to prepare for “uncomfortable situations” and ultimately bore responsibility for its own security.

All options to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions should remain open, Barak said, repeating the official line taken by Israel, which has termed a nuclear-armed Iran a threat to its existence.

Israel is widely believed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, something it has never confirmed or denied under a policy of strategic ambiguity to keep Arab and Iranian adversaries at bay.

Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s defense minister, cautioned against any military strike on its atomic facilities. “We are fully prepared for a firm response to such foolish measures by our enemies,” Vahidi was quoted as saying by Iran’s student news agency.

Western diplomats said the report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog is expected to show recent activity in Iran that could be put to developing nuclear bombs, including intelligence about computer modeling of such weapons.

Iran says its uranium enrichment program is aimed at generating electricity only.

“I estimate that it will be quite a harsh report … it does not surprise Israel, we have been dealing with these issues for years,” Barak said.

He voiced doubt, however, that the U.N. Security Council, where Tehran’s traditional sympathizers China and Russia have veto power, would respond to the IAEA’s findings by imposing tough new sanctions following four previous rounds of measures.

“We are probably at the last opportunity for coordinated, international, lethal sanctions that will force Iran to stop,” Barak said, calling for steps to halt imports of Iranian oil and exports of refined petroleum to the Islamist Republic.

Such steps, he said, “will need the cooperation of the United States, Europe, India, China and Russia—and I don’t think that it will be possible to form such a coalition.”

Moscow has called for a step-by-step process under which the existing sanctions would be eased in return for actions by Iran to dispel concerns over its nuclear program.

At a news conference in Berlin, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said “militarist statements to the effect that Israel or other countries use force against Iran or any other country in the Middle East” represented “very dangerous rhetoric.”

Speculation in Israel about an imminent attack on Iran was fueled last week by the Jewish state’s test-launching of a long-range missile and comments by Netanyahu that Tehran’s nuclear program posed a “direct and heavy threat.”

Pressed in the radio interview about a military option, Barak said he was aware of fears among many Israelis that a strike against Iran could draw catastrophic retaliatory missile attacks by Tehran and its Palestinian Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah allies.

“There is no way to prevent some damage. It will not be pleasant,” Barak said. “There is no scenario for 50,000 dead, or 5,000 killed—and if everyone stays in their homes, maybe not even 500 dead.”

Israel held a wide-scale civil defense exercise last week, a drill that Israeli officials said was routine and scheduled months ago.

Interviews by Reuters with government and military officials, as well as independent experts, suggest that Israel prefers caution over a unilateral strike against the Iranians.

Iran has repeatedly said it would respond to any attack by striking U.S. interests in the Middle East and could close the Gulf to oil traffic, causing massive disruption to global crude supplies.

Many countries like Russia and U.S. allies Germany and France have opposed any strike against the Islamic Republic, saying it could cause “irreparable damages,” suggesting that the dispute should be resolved through diplomatic means.

The United States says it remains focused on using diplomatic and economic levers to pressure Iran.

Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna and Tehran and Berlin bureaux; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Briefs: Palestinians riot near Jerusalem dig; Brandeis threatened with loss of donations


Palestinians Riot Around Jerusalem

Palestinians rioted at entry points to Jerusalem to protest a ban stemming from previous riots over an Old City dig. Police banned Palestinian males under age 50 from attending Friday prayer services at mosques on the Temple Mount, and extended a ban on Raed Salah, leader of Israel’s Islamic Movement. Police arrested 15 people in scuffles in and around the city. Worshipers have rioted in recent weeks to protest a construction project near the Temple Mount.

Israeli authorities say the renovation of a staircase leading to the Temple Mount does not threaten the integrity of the site, but Salah, who has frequently concocted imaginary Jewish plots against the Temple Mount to incite his public against Israel, has led protests at the site and scuffled with police officers. Last Friday, he called for a Muslim intifada to “save” the mosque from the Jews. The Israelis “want to build their Temple while our blood is on their clothing, on their doorposts, in their food and in their water,” Salah said.

Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter asked the attorney general to investigate whether Salah’s comments constitute incitement and sedition.

Brandeis Threatened With Loss of Donations

Mideast scholar Daniel Pipes called on donors to reconsider their support of Brandeis University. In an op-ed published Tuesday in the Brandeis student newspaper, The Justice, Pipes claimed that his planned appearance at the university had been put on hold pending approval from a new committee created to vet potential speakers on the Middle East.

The committee also reportedly is holding up an appearance by Norman Finkelstein, a noted critic of Israeli policy who has argued that the Jewish state exploits the Holocaust for political purposes. Evidence that pressure on the university may be intensifying came from a report Friday in the New York Jewish Week that “more than a handful” of major donors told Brandeis they would no longer contribute following a recent controversial visit by former President Carter, who discussed his book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” which is harshly critical of Israel. A Brandeis spokeswoman told the Jewish Week that she wasn’t aware of any communication from donors.

Hezbollah Seen Expanding Arsenal

Hezbollah aims to stockpile more weapons than it had before last year’s war with Israel, a top Israeli intelligence analyst said.

Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz, chief of research in Israel’s Military Intelligence, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in a briefing Monday that the Lebanese terrorist group was smuggling in rockets to replace the thousands it lost fighting Israel during the summer war. Once it receives new shipments from neighboring Syria, Baidatz said, Hezbollah will have a larger rocket arsenal than it did before the war.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz interjected that this should not be a gauge of the threat posed to Israel by Hezbollah. Peretz noted that Hezbollah deprived of its border positions was in far less of a position to launch attacks.

Hezbollah admitted it has resumed stockpiling arms on Lebanon’s frontier with Israel.

“We can reveal that we have arms, and of all kinds,” Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said last Friday in a speech. “We move them covertly, and Israel does not know about it.”

Nasrallah said the smuggling would continue in defiance of Israel, foreign peacekeepers and the Lebanese army, which deployed in southern Lebanon as part of the U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended last year’s war.

“We are not a burden to the Lebanese army but rather a supporter of its mission,” Nasrallah said.

Iran Defies U.N. Demands

Iran signaled that it will not honor a demand by the United Nations to halt sensitive nuclear projects. The Foreign Ministry in Tehran announced Sunday that Iran has no intention of meeting a Feb. 21 deadline set by the U.N. Security Council for suspending uranium enrichment. Under Security Council Resolution 1737, which was passed in late December, Iran was subjected to limited international sanctions that could be expanded if it defied the 60-day deadline on uranium enrichment, a key potential process for making nuclear bombs.

While China and Russia surprised other Security Council members by backing the original resolution, it was unclear whether they would support further sanctions given their robust trade ties with Tehran and public skepticism over whether the Iranians are seeking nuclear weapons.

Feinstein Reintroduces Cluster Bomb Bill

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein cited Israeli cluster bombs left behind in Lebanon in introducing legislation to restrict the sale of the devices.

“What gives rise, in part, to my bill are recent developments in Lebanon over alleged use of cluster bombs by Israel,” Feinstein, a Jewish Democrat who is seen as strongly pro-Israel, said last week in introducing the legislation with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Israel dropped some 4 million bomblets in southern Lebanon during last summer’s war with Hezbollah, and 1 million failed to explode, she said.

“As Lebanese children and families have returned to their homes and begin to rebuild, they have been exposed to the danger of these unexploded bomblets lying in the rubble. Twenty-two people, including six children have been killed and 133, including 47 children, injured.”

Israel said it used the weapons in areas where civilians had already fled, and says the postwar casualty rate is due to U.S.-made bombs that have a high rate of delayed explosion.

Human-rights groups have noted that Hezbollah also used cluster bombs during the war, firing them directly into Israeli cities. Feinstein and Leahy introduced similar legislation immediately following the war, but it failed.

Jerusalem Opens Alcohol-Free Bar

An alcohol-free bar opened in Jerusalem with municipal funding. Lugar opened its doors in central Jerusalem on Monday with a teetotaling format geared toward minors.

The initiative was conceived by Mayor Uri Lupolianski following growing evidence that youths in Jerusalem, including many foreigners on study visits, were increasingly abusing lax controls on alcohol consumption in public places.

Lupolianski said he hoped other cities in Israel would emulate the Lugar pilot.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

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