Oren: Setting Iran back by only a few years still worth strike

‘One year in the Middle East is a long time,’ ambassador to US says

Michael Oren. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)
Michael Oren. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

Israel’s ambassador to the US said Wednesday that Israel would be willing to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, even if doing so only set their program back a few years.

Speaking to Bloomberg in Washington, Michael Oren said that gaining even a little extra time would be worth a military operation against Tehran’s program, which Israel maintains is aimed at developing a nuclear weapon and not for civilian use as the Islamic Republic claims.

“One, two, three, four years are a long time in the Middle East — look what’s happened in the last year” Oren said, referring to the Arab Spring and the on-going political upheaval in the region. “In our neighborhood, those are the rules of the game.”

The comments were likely a brush back against statements made by US Joint Chiefs of Staff head Martin Dempsey the day before. Dempsey said that an Israeli strike would only set back Iran’s nuclear program by one year.

Oren said Israeli officials in 1981 believed a strike on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility would only set Baghdad back by one or two years. The Israeli Air Force destroyed Iraq’s reactor on June 7, 1981, in an attack criticized around the world.

“To this day, Iraq does not have a nuclear weapon,” Oren said.

Officials, notably Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have used the Osirak case as proof that an Israeli strike can be effective.

The US is reportedly working to stop a unilateral strike by Israel, with Israel’s Channel 10 news claiming that US President Barack Obama will reportedly offer Israel assurances that Washington will back Jerusalem if it is willing to give sanctions and diplomatic measures more time to work.

Reports in Israel have ramped up in recent weeks that Israel is looking to hit Iran in the early fall, before the US presidential election. According to reports, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are proponents of a strike, though much of the military brass opposes the move.

Oren said the timing was not meant to force Obama’s hand and drag the US into a war, as some reports have suggested.

“The issue is not the American elections,” he stated. “The issue is the degree to which the Iranian program has reached a critical point where they can begin to put together nuclear weapons.”

On Wednesday, Dempsey and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta seemed to launch a renewed public offensive against an Israeli strike, telling reporters that Israel had not decided to attack and going it alone would fail to cause much damage to Iran’s nuclear program.

A joint strike with US involvement is believed to be the preferred option, as the US reportedly possesses weapons that could destroy nuclear facilities buried deep underground, like the Fordo nuclear plant south of Tehran.

On Friday, White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated Washington’s stance, that sanctions and diplomacy must be given time to work and that Iran had not yet “broken out” toward a bomb.

Oren rebuffed those claims, saying several rounds of diplomatic efforts have borne no fruit. “Iranians show no signs of flexibility in negotiations,” he said.

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