March Again Mentioned As Key Date in Iran's Nuclear Program

Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Tuesday, December 13, 2005

March Again Mentioned As Key Date in Iran's Nuclear Program

Jerusalem ( - Iran will have the technological capability to produce nuclear weapons within three months -- the point of no return, said the head of Israel's army on Tuesday.

The remarks by Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz to Israeli lawmakers were the latest in a series of dire predictions delivered by Israeli officials and made public in recent weeks.

March looms as a key month for those concerned about oil-rich Iran hiding its nuclear ambitions behind a civilian "energy" program.

Two weeks ago, the head of military intelligence for the Israeli army also told lawmakers that the end of March would be a crucial time regarding Iran's development of an atomic weapon. If the IAEA doesn't succeed in referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council by then, the diplomatic effort will have failed, Maj.-General Aharon Ze'evi Farkash was quoted as saying on Nov. 30.

The U.S. has been trying for more than a year to have the issue of Iran's nuclear development referred to the Security Council. But European states -- along with Russia and China, which both wield veto power on the Security Council -- have opposed the move.

An article in the British Sunday Times over the weekend quoted unnamed Israeli military sources as saying that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had ordered the army to be prepared for a possible attack on secret Iranian enrichment facilities by the end of March.

Sharon's office has refused to comment on the article.

The board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, is due to meet again in early March to discuss placing sanctions on Iran.

Israel is urging the international community to take quick, stern diplomatic action before it is too late.

But Halutz said last week he did not believe that diplomatic pressure would force Iran to stop its pursuit of a uranium enrichment program, which could be used to make atomic weapons.

In his remarks on Tuesday, Halutz told Israeli lawmakers that although Iran may reach the "point of no return" in three months, there would be no immediate threat to Israel -- "because Iran will have to overcome a few obstacles before it can put the weapons to use," he said.

Dr. Ely Karmon from the International Policy Institute on Counter-Terrorism told Cybercast News Service on Tuesday that Israeli military intelligence has been warning for a year that Iran would reach the point of no return in the next few months.

But a year ago, he said, there was still hope in Israel that diplomatic or political steps could be taken to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Israel has kept a low-key public profile on the topic of Iran's nuclear capability. It doesn't want to be seen as leading the effort to block Iran's nuclear program, said Karmon.

In recent weeks, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has become more aggressive and outspoken in his anti-Israel comments, and that apparently has added urgency to Israel's latest warnings.

And according to press reports, some political analysts have suggested that Israel's general election -- scheduled for March 28 -- may be a factor in the recent "nuclear Iran" warnings coming from Israeli officials.

The Israeli government has said it will not allow Iran to reach the point of no return -- the point where it obtains the know-how and capability to produce nuclear weapons, even though the actual production of a bomb might take several more years.

See Earlier Stories:
Time Running Out for Diplomacy With Iran, Israel Says (30 Nov. 2005)
Strike on Iran Not Easy, Israeli Military Chief Says (5 Dec. 2005)
Iranian President Wants Israel Moved to Europe (9 Dec. 2005)

Subscribe to the free daily E-Brief.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.