In advance of important talks with Iran about its nuclear program on 13 [or 14?] April [apparently in Istanbul, after all] Israeli Maj-Gen (res) Amos Gilad said in a briefing in Jerusalem this week that Iran, today, has ability to put together a nuclear weapon [but probably won’t].
Iran does “have the know-how to assemble a nuclear warhead, if they want to do it … it depends on their decision”, he said.
Gilad spoke on Tuesday 2 April to diplomats, military attaches, ranking UNTSO “blue beret” military observers, and journalists at a briefing at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs [JCPA].
He suggested in his talk that he is enjoying some sort of retirement [at least, from direct responsibility for intelligence, he implied] — but he is still described as the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs.
“I agree there’s no existential threat to Israel [now], but if Iran develops nuclear weapons, that could change. It [the threat to Israel from Iran] becomes serious”, Gilad said.
About Iran’s leadership, Gilad said, “We need to be humble. They are not stupid… Consider your enemy as more intelligent than you. If Israel tells them something, they will ignore it — unless they come to the same conclusion themselves. And [Iran knows] there is a consensus now”.
He said, “the moment they feel immune, they will [might] cross the Rubicon”. But, he noted, even if they do the opposite, and pull back from the brink, “they will keep the capability”.
Gilad spoke on Tuesday.
By Friday [allowing time for translations, reaction, and reportage], there appeared to be confirmation of this from Iran itself.
The Associated Press published a headline-making story, datelined Tehran, picked up by media from around the world, reporting that prominent Iranian parliamentarian Gholamreza Mesbahi Moghadam “said Iran can easily produce the highly enriched uranium that is used to build atomic bombs but it is not Tehran’s policy to go that route”. According to AP, Moghadam told icana.ir that “There is a possibility for Iran to easily achieve more than 90 (percent) enrichment”. One place this report was published was here.
But, the Iranian politician said more than that. He said that Iran can also actually produce a nuclear weapon — and that takes more than just highly-enriched uranium: “‘Iran has the scientific and technological capability to produce (a) nuclear weapon, but will never choose this path’, Moghadam told the parliament’s news website, icana.ir, late Friday”.
The Washington Post’s David Ignatius [@IgnatiusPost on Twitter] reported that Obama sent message to Iran via Turkey last week [but “delicate issue” of enrichment not clear]. Ignatius’ WPost story [see below] is posted here.
Amos Gilad [IDF Maj-Gen res] said Iran has 5,5 tons of Lightly Enriched Uranium and is “dealing with” 20% enrichment [warheads need higher, over 90% enrichment].
Iran’s stock of Lightly Enriched Uranium at 3-4% is the degree used to run civilian nuclear power plants, as Iran says it’s preparing to do.
It seems that this Iranian claim now being accepted … or, at least, it is not considered as alarming as it previously was, in recent years.
But 20% enrichment of uranium [Iran has experimented with at least two different technologies to arrive at this level] is another matter. Iran has explained that its 20% enriched uranium is for medical usage [in a research reactor that will produce medical isotopes to treat cancer, etc.]
Amos Gilad [IDF Maj-Gen res] furrowed his brow and shook his head, when he spoke about Iran’s uranium enrichment program…
Apparently, 20% enrichment is too much — perhaps because once there’s capability to enrich uranium to 20% level, it becomes possible to do more or less the same to arrive at military grade +90%.
UPDATE: Haaretz is now reporting that “Israel has signaled it would accept, as a first priority, world powers focusing on persuading Iran to stop higher-level uranium enrichment when they resume stalled nuclear negotiations this week with Tehran … ‘We told our American friends, as well as the Europeans, that we would have expected the threshold for successful negotiations to be clear, namely that the P5+1 will demand clearly that – no more enrichment to 20 percent’, [Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud] Barak said in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS to be aired on Sunday. Iran’s stocks of 20 percent-pure uranium should be removed ‘to a neighboring, trusted country’, Barak said, according to an advance transcript of the interview … Asked about Barak’s comments to CNN, another Israeli official confirmed that the Netanyahu government was focusing lobbying efforts on Iran’s 20-percent pure uranium but said the long-term goal remained the ending all of its enrichment work. ‘The understanding that has emerged in our contacts with the powers is that there should be a staggered approach’, the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Western diplomats have similarly stressed that an initial focus on 20 percent enrichment should not be seen as ‘legitimizing’ lower-level work as the UN Security Council has demanded a full suspension”. This is reported here.
Amos Gilad said at the JCPA briefing last Tuesday: “Obama is talking about nuclear missile = nuclear weapon. We are talking about capability”.
“The President of the U.S., in September 2010 at the UN, exposed the Iranian’s top secret project of Qum”, Gilad said, referring to the 20% enrichment effort. Now, Gilad added, “the [American] President has upgraded to saying he will not tolerate a nuclear Iran. He said it publicly in a very serious way. He’s committed not to us, but to the whole world”.
He added: “I try to be very simple: I think a nuclear Iran is not tolerable for Israel, for the U.S., and for the West … [and even if you analyze the Chinese position] … Does this oblige Iran? [Ayatollah] Khamene’i can do whatever he wants. History will then judge him”, Gilad said.
Gilad said that Turkey’s position was interesting: “If Iran gets nuclear weapon, Turkey – to be very gentle – will be very upset”.
According to David Ignatius’ report Friday in the Washington Post, published here, “President Obama has signaled Iran that the United States would accept an Iranian civilian nuclear program if Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei can back up his recent public claim that his nation ‘will never pursue nuclear weapons’ … The statement highlighted by Obama as a potential starting point was made on state television in February. Khamenei said: ‘The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons … Iran is not after nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous’. … Obama didn’t specify whether Iran would be allowed to enrich uranium domestically as part of the civilian program the United States would endorse. That delicate issue evidently would be left for the negotiations that are supposed to start April 13, at a venue yet to be decided … As Iran’s leadership debates its negotiating stance, the squeeze of Western sanctions is becoming tighter. Nat Kern, the editor of Foreign Reports, a leading oil newsletter, forecasts that Iran will lose about a third of its oil exports by mid-summer. It may get even worse for Iran after July 1 if China and the European Union follow through on recent warnings that they might stop insuring tankers carrying Iranian crude”.
On Saturday, The New York Times published an article by David Sanger and Steven Erlanger, posted here, which reported that “In interviews, administration officials said their ‘urgent priority’ was to get Iran to give up — and ship out of the country — its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity, and to get Tehran to close Fordo. Dismantlement, they said, would come in a second stage. So far Iran has produced only about 100 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium — less than it would need to produce a single nuclear weapon — but it has announced plans to increase production sharply in coming months. It is unclear whether that is possible: sanctions, embargos on crucial parts and Western sabotage have all delayed the program. But because that fuel could be so quickly converted to highly enriched uranium for a bomb, the American and European strategy is to eliminate that stockpile, leaving time to negotiate on the fate of lower-enriched uranium. Uranium enriched to about 5 percent does not pose as imminent a risk, but the United Nations Security Council has required that Iran halt all enrichment … Others, however, are more willing to allow Iran some enrichment capabilities. ‘What we are looking for is a way to acknowledge Iran’s right to enrich, but only at levels that would give us plenty of warning if they moved toward a weapon’, one European diplomat familiar with the internal debates said”.
It is worth noting that European officials participating in the series of negotiations with Iran that have gone on for nearly a decade do not refer to these talks as “P5+1” [meaning, Germany plus the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, who are also the world’s only “official”/or legitimate nuclear weapons state, as defined in the 1967 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty].
The Europeans call these negotiations the “P3+3” talks [meaning, Germany plus France and the UK, who are the two European Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, along with the other three Permanent Members of the UNSC, who are the US, Russia, and China].
As the NYTimes story stated, “the United Nations Security Council has required that Iran halt all enrichment”.
The NYTimes report noted that “While the six nations in the talks — Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany — are prepared to allow Iran to have a nuclear power program, they say Iran must first restore its credibility and prove that it does not in fact have a military nuclear program. It can do so, they say, by allowing agency inspectors full access to all Iranian sites … The Western negotiators all agree that in the first round of talks, Iran must prove its willingness to discuss its nuclear program without preconditions. In the last talks in January 2011, Tehran demanded that the six first lift all sanctions against Iran and recognize what Iran says is its ‘right to enrich’. Last week, apparently in preparation for the meeting, Mr. Obama delivered a message to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, through an intermediary: Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Mr. Erdogan met Mr. Obama during a summit meeting in Seoul late last month and then went directly to northeastern Iran. The message, American officials said, was that ‘there is great urgency’ that Iran seriously negotiate now”.
The Washington Post and the New York Times stories were serious signals about the American negotiating aims.
UPDATE: Another NYTimes story published today [about drones collecting evidence over Iran for some three years, until one “crashed” inside Iran in December] reported this: “The expanded espionage effort has confirmed the consensus view expressed by the U.S. intelligence community in a controversial estimate released publicly in 2007. That estimate concluded that while Iran remains resolutely committed to assembling key building blocks for a nuclear weapons program, particularly enriched uranium, the nation’s leaders have opted for now against taking the crucial final step: designing a nuclear warhead. ‘It isn’t the absence of evidence, it’s the evidence of an absence’, said one former intelligence official briefed on the findings. ‘Certain things are not being done’.” This is published here.
Israeli position was explained, with somewhat less nuance than expressed by Amos Gilad a few days earlier, in a couple of stories last week in the Jerusalem Post.
On Wednesday, the Jerusalem Post reported here that “Israel and the US share almost all of their intelligence assessments regarding Iran and, for example, share the opinion that Iran has yet to make the decision to begin enriching uranium to higher military-grade levels and begin building a bomb.
Barak admitted, however, that there were differences between Israel and the US over his claim that Iran was moving into an ‘immunity zone’ and that if Israel waits too long its military option might not be viable past the end of the year. ‘This is part of the difference between us and the Americans’, the defense minister said.”
The same article, written by the well-briefed JPost Defense Correspondent Yaakov Katz, says that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave a “rare” briefing to military correspondents in which he “revealed what Israel’s goals are for the talks:
1) transfer of all uranium enriched to 20 percent – approximately 120 kg. – out of Iran to a third party country;
2) the transfer of the majority of the 5 tons of uranium enriched to 3.5% out of Iran, leaving just enough needed for energy purposes;
3) the closure of the Fordow enrichment facility, buried under a mountain near the city of Qom;
4) the transfer of fuel rods from a third party country to Iran for the purpose of activating the Tehran Research Reactor”.
In a new article published in the JPost heretoday [Easter Sunday, 8 April], Katz wrote that Defense Minister Barak just said that “Iran must open all of its nuclear facilities to the IAEA, and disclose its entire history of activity related to the allegation of developing a nuclear weapon, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday. Barak added this new stipulation to previous conditions he laid out last week, which he reiterated Sunday in light of a New York Times report that laid out the United States’ list of demands for Iran over its nuclear program … The Times article, which was published on Saturday, said the US would demand at upcoming P5+1 talks with Iran that Tehran close its underground nuclear facility at Fordow, and transfer out of the country uranium fuel that has been enriched to weapons-grade level. The US reiterated its acceptance of a civilian nuclear program, which Iran is allowed to pursue under its acceptance of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty. The Obama administration and its European allies also will call for a halt in the production of higher-level enrichment of uranium fuel, and the shipment of existing stockpiles of that fuel out of Iran, the newspaper said, citing US and European diplomats … Diplomats told the Times that they could not imagine any agreement that left Iran with a stockpile of fuel, enriched to 20 percent purity, that could be converted to the grade needed to make an atomic bomb in a matter of months … Defense Ministry Diplomatic-Security Bureau Head Amos Gilad Maj.-Gen. (res.) also responded to the Times article on Sunday morning, saying the most important part of the report is the US’s insistence that Iran not be allowed to acquire a nuclear bomb. ‘The US’s unequivocal commitment that it won’t allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon is the most important part’ of the Times report, Gilad told Army Radio”.