'Confrontation with Iran may be delayed to 2013'

Defense official says sanctions beginning to show results, Israel waiting to see what happens in upcoming nuclear talks.

Iran Nuclear Satellite Pic 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran Nuclear Satellite Pic 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A possible military confrontation with Iran may be postponed until 2013, senior defense officials said in recent weeks amid growing signs that the West’s economic crackdown on Iran is bearing fruit.
In addition, while skeptical, the defense establishment is waiting to see what the outcome will be of the talks expected to begin in mid-April between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 group comprised of the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China.
“It could happen this year, but also 2013 is a possibility,” a senior official said recently.
“We will need to wait to see the effect sanctions and diplomacy have on Iran and what the regime decides to do.”
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu acknowledged that sanctions were hurting Iran but that it was not yet clear if they would succeed in ultimately stopping Tehran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
What could potentially change Israel’s timeline would be an Iranian decision to begin enriching uranium to higher military-grade levels and to begin building a bomb.
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Western intelligence agencies closely track Iran’s enrichment program as well as the so-called weapons group, which would assemble the device if ordered to do so by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Israel and the US are in agreement that Khamenei has yet to give the order to go to the “breakout stage” by beginning the enrichment of high-grade uranium and the building of a nuclear device.
Intelligence officials in Israel and the US have voiced confidence that they would know if Iran decides to move to the stage of manufacturing a nuclear weapon. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan recently said that if Iran was, for example, to begin enriching uranium to 90-percent levels and was not stopped, then Israel would need to use military force to stop it.
The current disagreement between Washington and Jerusalem is over the point of no return for such a strike.
The US, like Dagan, argues that the threat will only become imminent once Iran begins enriching high-grade uranium, a clear indication that it is moving toward weaponization.
Israel, led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, argues that – due to Iran’s move into a so-called immunity zone, or point when its facilities will be fortified and protected – an Israeli strike might not be viable for much longer, and therefore one might be needed even before high-grade enrichment begins.