Weighing a Strike on Iran

Article excerpt


On June 7, 1981, Israeli F-15 and F-16 fighter-bombers took off from Etzion Air Base in the Sinai, flew at low altitude across the Iraqi border and zeroed in on Saddam Hussein's Osirak nuclear reactor. One minute and 20 seconds after the first bomb struck, the reactor lay in ruins. All aircraft returned safely.

Today, 23 years later, there is a growing view in Washington and Tel Aviv that a similar pre-emptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities may be the only way to prevent the fundamentalist mullahs from acquiring a nuclear bomb.

The Iranian threat to Israel, and to Middle Eastern stability, is serious and growing. Ten months of intensive diplomacy by Britain, France and Germany has failed to defuse the crisis.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Israel has considered Iran its No. 1 enemy. On July 21, Israel's intelligence agencies submitted a joint report to the Cabinet that Iran could have a nuclear weapon by 2007. And Iran has made clear its main enemies are the "Zionist state" and its U.S. ally.

Every country that recently developed nuclear weapons has done so by generating highly enriched uranium or plutonium through the fuel cycle used for nuclear power. Tehran's claim it only aims to produce electric power is ridiculous. Iran sits on huge reserves of oil, is the second-largest Middle East petroleum exporter after Saudi Arabia, and has the second-largest natural gas reserves in the world after Russia.

The British, French and Germans brokered a deal with Iran last October under which Tehran would cooperate with international Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, and suspend enrichment of uranium. In exchange, the U.N. Security Council would not take action against Iran.

The IAEA put seals on the centrifuges used to enrich uranium, but now Iran has directly challenged the IAEA and the European nations by removing the seals, and restarting production of new centrifuges. Once enriched, uranium can be used either to produce electric power or make nuclear bombs.

Iran's centrifuges are believed capable of making 20 to 25 nuclear weapons a year. Plutonium, a byproduct of the nuclear reactor, also can be used to make bombs. John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control, recently told Congress that in a few years the Bushehr nuclear power plant Russia is building for Iran could produce enough plutonium for more than 80 nuclear weapons. …