PM: Iran already has enough material for five bombs

If currently discussed deal goes through, there might be ‘no choice but to exercise a military option in the future,’ Netanyahu tells German paper

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set out his 'red line' for Iran on a cartoon-bomb drawing during a  speech to the UN General Assembly, on September 27, 2012. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set out his 'red line' for Iran on a cartoon-bomb drawing during a speech to the UN General Assembly, on September 27, 2012. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

Iran has already enriched enough uranium for five atomic bombs, Prime Minister Netanyahu said in an interview published late Monday, and warned that a nuclear deal currently discussed between six world powers and Tehran that would ease sanctions might necessitate a preemptive military strike.

“The Iranians already have five bombs’ worth of low-enriched uranium,” he told the German daily Bild. “If you press the sanctions now, you might actually get a better deal. If you have a bad diplomatic solution — what this appears to be — you actually may get the consequences you want to avoid. That is, you would have no choice but to exercise a military option in the future.”

In order to build a nuclear bomb, highly enriched uranium in necessary, yet it is possible to convert low-enriched material to weapons-grade level rather quickly. According to some experts, Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build an atomic weapon within two weeks.

Netanyahu’s comments came one day before six world powers — the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — will meet in Geneva for a third round of negotiations. It is widely expected that the so-called P5+1 and Iran will sign an interim agreement that would entail limited sanctions relief in exchange for a freeze of Tehran’s nuclear program. The proposed deal would allow Iran to enrich uranium to a level of 3.5 percent, but not to 20 percent. Israel fears that any arrangement that lets Iran keep its centrifuges would leave the regime with a so-called breakout capability.

At a press conference with visiting French President Francois Hollande Sunday, Netanyahu said he is “gravely concerned that this deal will go through.”

Speaking to the German paper, the prime minister said the Islamic Republic is producing long-range missiles aimed at Europe and the United States. “Iran is building ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles] not for Israel. It already has missiles that can reach Israel,” he said. “And they are building these weapons not to arm them with TNT, but with nuclear warheads. And if you don’t take away the capacity to make nuclear weapons, then you will wake up one day and find Iran with nuclear-tipped ICBMs aimed right at German cities. The sanctions should be toughened to make Iran cease and desist.”

The prime minister reiterated his position that the P5+1 countries should reject the proposed deal because Iran will not be forced to dismantle its capacity to produce fissile material, yet only has to make “minor concessions that it can reverse in weeks.”

“So the P5+1 are giving Iran a great deal, Iran is giving practically nothing,” Netanyahu said. “That’s a bad deal. And it’s particularly bad now when Iran is feeling finally the crippling sanctions, when you actually have them on the ropes, when you can actually get them to dismantle their nuclear weapons infrastructure, you are letting off the pressure.”

Netanyahu cast aside the argument that the currently proposed deal is merely an interim solution meant to buy time so Iran doesn’t advance with its nuclear ambitions while a final agreement is negotiated in the coming months. If Iran doesn’t agree to dismantle its centrifuges and its heavy water reactor in Arak now, when it is under intense economic pressure, it would certainly not do so after the pressure has been eased, he argued. “This is a mistake, a terrible mistake, a historic error.”

Regarding Israel’s public spat with the American government, which seems to favor an interim agreement with Iran, Netanyahu said that he and US Secretary of State John Kerry have a “very good” working relationship. “But even among friends you can have disagreements. We agree on a lot of things, and on this point we disagree. I have to think about the survival of my country and the survival of my people and we are not going to let ayatollahs with nuclear weapons threaten that.”

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