It seems like an overly cliched script with a plot so tired that even Hollywood's dross-marketing machine might think twice about touching it: a Mid-East nation led by an aggressive regime with a record of violating human rights whenever it feels like (which turns out to be often) threatens countries in the region with its arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. But, in a twist unlikely to make it into the next blockbuster, according to a January 7 article in London's Sunday Times, it's the Israeli military that's planning to use nuclear weapons, not the "mad Arabs" that are the more conventional WMD-toting movie villains.
The paper reported that two Israeli air force squadrons are "training to blow up an Iranian [nuclear] facility using low-yield nuclear 'bunker-busters'", according to "several Israeli military sources". An Israeli source told the paper: "As soon as the green light is given, it will be one mission, one strike and the Iranian nuclear project will be demolished." The article stated: "Israeli and American officials have met several times to consider military action. Military analysts said the disclosure of the plans could be intended to put pressure on Tehran to halt [uranium] enrichment, cajole America into action or soften up world opinion in advance of an Israeli attack."
The article offered detail of the alleged plan. It claimed that Israeli pilots "have flown to Gibraltar in recent weeks to train for the 2,000-mile round trip to the Iranian targets", that Israeli air force commander Major General Eliezer Shkedi had overseen the preparations, and that three targets inside Iran had been chosen. The targets would be the uranium enrichment facility located some 70 kilometres from the small town of Nantanz, a facility near Isfahan that converts uranium into uranium hexafluoride gas for enrichment into nuclear fuel (low-enriched uranium), and a heavy-water nuclear power plant in Arak.
The paper reported that "conventional laser-guided bombs would open 'tunnels' into the targets. 'Mini-nukes' would then immediately be fired into a plant at Natanz, exploding deep underground to reduce the risk of radioactive fallout." A January 7 Associated Press article reported Israeli denials of the Sunday Times's claims, although gave no direct quotes of outright rejections of either the use of nuclear weapons or of the use of military force against Iran.
The wire service noted: "Some view Israeli officials' occasional implied threats as a means of pressuring the world community to take action, building on the recent United Nations Security Council decision to impose some economic sanctions on Tehran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment ... Ephraim Kam — a former senior intelligence official now at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Strategic Studies — also suggested the report should not be taken literally. 'No reliable source would ever speak about this, certainly not to the Sunday Times', he said." (In 1986, Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu revealed details of Israel's development of nuclear weapons to the Sunday Times.)
It is clear that even if Iran chose to develop nuclear weapons (the existence of which would present serious difficulties for any future US military efforts at "regime change" in Tehran) it would take years. In August 2005, the Washington Post reported that, according to the US's National Intelligence Estimate, Iran would be unlikely to produce enough highly enriched uranium to build a nuclear weapon before "early to mid-next decade". However the Sunday Times reported an alleged assessment by the Israeli intelligence service Mossad that Iran is "on the verge of producing enough enriched uranium to make nuclear weapons within two years".
Regardless of whether the Israeli regime is seriously considering a nuclear strike and/or whether the "leak" of such plans is a propaganda move aimed at pressuring the less enthusiastic supporters, like Russia and China, of the US efforts on the UN Security Council to internationally isolate Iran, the spotlight has once again been placed on Washington's nuclear hypocrisy. So far, neither the International Atomic Energy Agency nor the White House have produced proof that Iran is developing nuclear weapons or that its nuclear program, dubious as it may be from an environmental standpoint, has any purpose other than power generation, a permitted application of nuclear technology under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (of which Iran is a signatory).
Israel's government, unlike Iran's, has actually overseen the bloody and illegal invasion of another country, and is known to have played a past role in nuclear proliferation, aiding Apartheid-era South Africa's nuclear weapons program. A July 1999 report by the US Defense Intelligence Agency estimated that Israel, which is not an NPT signatory and has a policy of neither confirming nor denying the existence of its nuclear arsenal, possesses 60-80 nuclear weapons. The Federation of American Scientists estimates that Israel's nuclear program could have produced enough plutonium to construct up to 200 weapons.
The fact that Washington hasn't even batted an eyelid in the face of claims that Israel may use the "nuclear option" against Iran is hardly a surprise — the Bush jnr White House has led the charge to publicly rehabilitate nukes as a "legitimate" weapon of war. On March 9, 2002, the Los Angeles Times reported that the White House had "directed the military to prepare contingency plans to use nuclear weapons against at least seven countries and to build smaller nuclear weapons for use in certain battlefield situations". The article was based on a copy of the classified Nuclear Posture Review by the US Defense Department, submitted to Congress in January 2002, obtained by the LA Times.
An analysis by the Nuclear Reduction/Disarmament Initiative noted: "The adaptive planning described in the NPR expands the role of nuclear weapons beyond the primary role of deterring a nuclear attack and suggests that nuclear weapons could be employed against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack or in retaliation for use of biological or chemical weapons ... This approach contradicts the spirit, if not the letter, of US 'negative security assurances', first made in 1978. These state that the US will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states that are party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty ... unless they attack the US in alliance with a nuclear-weapon state."