A former top Israeli nuclear expert is contending that Iran is a decade away from producing a nuclear weapon, saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is making a fuss over Tehran’s program for his own political gain.
The assessment by Uzi Eilam, who for over 10 years served as director of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, runs counter to Israeli and US estimations that Iran could create a nuclear weapon in a matter of months if it wants.
“The Iranian nuclear project will be active only in another 10 years,” Eilam told the Yedioth Ahronoth daily in excerpts from an interview published on Thursday. “I am not sure that Iran wants a bomb. It could be that they would be satisfied to be a threshold nuclear state to be a regional power and scare the neighbors.”
Eilam also accused Netanyahu of worrying the Israeli public with the specter of Iran for his own political machinations.
“Netanyahu is using the Iranian threat in order to achieve all kinds of political purposes,” he said but declined to speculate on what might be the goals of the prime minister’s strategy.
Since leaving the Atomic Commission in 1985 Eilam has worked as a researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv and as a defense consultant.
Eilam said that the government’s saber-rattling over a possible attack is pointless, especially considering the challenges of military action.
“The talk and threats about a strike on Iran were working up a frenzy that doesn’t help,” he said and noted the practical difficulties in pulling off a successful bombing campaign.
He also argued that the attack would backfire, pushing Iran to double down on its nuclear program and rallying the populace behind the regime.
“Bombing would achieve exact opposite to what we want,” he warned.
Eilam’s opposition to military action on Iran is not new. He famously opposed the Israeli strike on the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981, arguing that it was needless.
In 2012, he told The Times of Israel that he was against military action against Iran, which he said was months or years away from a nuclear weapon.
Eilam’s warning comes as the international community is reportedly nearing a deal with Iran that would let it enrich a small amount of uranium in exchange for sanctions relief.
On Wednesday, technical experts representing Tehran and six world powers wrapped up a round of negotiations in New York described as “useful.”
Official Jerusalem has railed against the diplomatic efforts and an interim deal signed in November. On Wednesday, Netanyahu told a group from the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces organization that despite the deal, Israel feared Tehran could still pursue a weapon.
“Iran today has thousands of centrifuges, thousands of kilograms of enriched uranium to make a bomb. A bad deal would let them keep those capacities. It’s better to have no deal than a bad deal,” he said, according to an FIDF statement.
Eilam, however, said there was cause for “optimism” in the interim deal, under which Iran agreed to reduce by half its stockpiles of 20% enriched uranium fuel.
A third round of talks between Iran and world powers is scheduled to begin on May 13.