Iran temporarily pulled back from its nuclear weapons drive this summer, and converted over a third of its enriched uranium to civilian use, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in an interview published Tuesday, intimating that this shift pushed off a decision by Israel and its allies about striking at Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Barak told The Telegraph that Tehran’s move to transfer 38 percent of its enriched uranium stockpile into fuel rods for civilian use “allows contemplating delaying the moment of truth by eight to 10 months.” Were it not for this Iranian move, he said, the situation would likely have “peaked” before the US presidential election.
Talk of an Israeli or American strike against Iran’s nuclear program has indeed died down since being raised to a zenith over the summer, with the US publicly opposing an Israeli resort to force and refusing Israel’s call to set “red lines” that, if crossed by Iran, would trigger military action. The US maintains that time remains for diplomacy and sanctions to work, while Israel at the time said Iran was closing in fast on the ability to create a nuclear weapon.
Asked whether, had they not made the move to reduce their uranium stockpile, the Iranians would likely be reaching the point of no return, necessitating military action “about now,” Barak replied: “Probably, yes.” He added that Iran could still reconvert the rods back into weapons-grade uranium, though this would take time and resources.
Barak posited “at least three explanations” for why Iran had temporarily pulled back: “One is the public discourse about a possible Israeli or American operation deterred them from trying to come closer. It could probably be a diplomatic gambit that they have launched in order to avoid this issue culminating before the American election, just to gain some time. It could be a way of telling the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] ‘oh we comply with our commitments’… Maybe it’s a combination of all these three elements.”
Barak stressed that Iran was still determined to build nuclear weapons, and said America and Europe shared Israel’s analysis. “We all agree that the Iranians are determined to turn into a military nuclear power and we all share the declaration that we are determined to prevent Iran from turning nuclear and all options are on the table,” Barak, on a visit to London, told the British paper.
On Tuesday, the US and European Union said they would push for harsher sanctions, even while seeking to restart stalled negotiations with Iran of the program.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking to French paper Paris Match before a trip to Paris on Wednesday, said an attack on Iran would actually serve to calm the region, and not, as many have claimed, lead to a regional war.
“Iran isn’t popular in the Arab world, far from it. Some governments in the region, as well as their citizens, understand that a nuclear-armed Iran would be dangerous for them, not just for Israel,” he told the paper in an interview published Tuesday.
Barak said Israel was keeping the military option the table, even if the timetable had changed, and that it would be better for Israel to act earlier than wait for Tehran to enter a “zone of immunity.”
“It’s not a minor decision to contemplate an operation against Iran, but however complicated, dangerous – it probably carries some unintended consequences – an operation against Iran could be now – think of what it means to try it when Iran is already nuclear, several years down the stream,” Barak said. “It would be much more complicated, much more dangerous and – with far-reaching, unintended potential consequences – much more costly in terms of human lives.”
He added that, while Israel wanted to work with US and the rest of the world on stopping Iran, it could not outsource its security interests.
“When it comes to the very core of our security interests and, in a way, the future of Israel, we cannot delegate the responsibility for making decisions even into the hands of our most trusted and trustworthy ally,” he said.
While acknowledging that sanctions on Iran were hitting the country hard, Barak said he did not see them leading to Tehran abandoning its nuclear program.
“I am extremely skeptical about the chances that it will lead the ayatollahs to sit together at any point in the foreseeable future and decide to give up their intention to go in the footsteps of Pakistan and North Korea and turn into a military nuclear power,” he said. “We would love to wake up one morning and learn, against my expectations, that the ayatollahs gave it up. I don’t believe it will happen.”