Rafi Eitan suspects that Iran already has enough enriched uranium fissionable material to manufacture at least one or two atom bombs of the Hiroshima type. "Otherwise Iranian President Ahmadinejad would not have dared come out with his declaration that Israel should be wiped off the map," repeating it in various versions. His efforts at denying the Holocaust in which six million Jews were slaughtered prove that there is method in Ahmadinejad's madness. "Don't treat him like a madman," Chief of General Staff Dan Halutz recently cautioned.
Eitan's assessment of the situation is especially important because of his extensive intelligence experience in Israel's struggle for its existence, even before its establishment in 1948. Eitan was among those that laid the operational foundations for the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the Mossad.
He is credited with numerous successes above and beyond the fact that he headed the team that apprehended Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires in May 1960 and brought him to justice in Jerusalem. He served as Menachem Begin's special adviser on the war on terror. He was involved in the secret planning and implementation of the attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor in June 1981.
Eitan failed in 1985 when the United States arrested Jonathan Pollard, an American navy intelligence analyst, for spying for Israel. Eitan was forced to resign after taking responsibility for running Pollard as an Israeli agent in the United States. It emerged at that time that Eitan had stood at the head of an Israeli intelligence agency known as the Office of Scientific Relations, LAKAM by its Hebrew acronym.
EITAN, CURRENTLY a private businessman who is close to 80 years old, is not only still sharp, quick and curious, but also takes a strong interest in the dangers posed to Israel. And so he came this week to the Herzliya Conference to hear the lectures and meet with colleagues from other countries.
Eitan told me: "I am convinced that the Iranians already have at least one or two nuclear devices. They have been operating centrifuges for a number of years now, they have natural uranium, and who on earth believes the Iranians when they say that they have closed down one facility or another? You would have to be an idiot or terribly na ve to believe them."
Eitan says that this view was bolstered by conversations he held with various experts from abroad who came to the Herzliya Conference - that Iran already has a an atom bomb. What should concern not only Israel but Europe too, continues Eitan, is the fact that the Iranians have acquired cruise missiles with a 3,000-kilometer range. They tried to purchase nine missiles of this kind in Ukraine from the arsenal of the former Soviet Union, but Russia thwarted part of the deal and Iran received three or four such missiles.
"In an argument with colleagues from abroad," noted Rafi Eitan, "the question was whether Iran's current president is a sort of new Hitler or merely an international manipulator. Too many experts have judged him in accordance with his actions and declarations as a kind of extremist Islamist Hitler."
The American administration of George W. Bush is entirely aware of the burgeoning Iranian nuclear danger. The question is whether the leading countries in Europe will wake up in time to the danger too. "The diplomatic struggle against the Iranian nuclear danger," warns Eitan, "must be an international one and it must come in time. The danger of nuclear weapons in the hands of Teheran is no less serious than when Saddam Hussein built the French Osirak nuclear reactor in Baghdad."
What worries Rafi Eitan is that the news coming from Teheran shows that President Ahmadinejad will not hesitate to take the most extreme measures, not unlike the methods used in the Third Reich, to put down any opposition against him. Iran has hundreds of thousands of young people who are opposed to the conceptual and cultural darkness that the fundamental Islamists are forcing on them. "Don't be surprised," Rafi Eitan told me, "if the Iranian president tries to forcibly and brutally eliminate this opposition."