Defense expert: ‘Strike or diplomatic solution on Iran likely within 12 months’

Year will see "milestone" in international efforts against the Islamic Republic's nuclear program.

Centrifuges Natanz 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Centrifuges Natanz 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The coming 12 months will likely see either a military strike or a diplomatic solution on Iran’s nuclear program, a senior Israeli defense expert told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday.
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Nitzan Nuriel, a research associate at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, and a former director of the Counter- Terrorism Bureau, spoke before the ICT’s World Summit on Counter-Terrorism, which will begin in Herzliya on Sunday.
“My assessment is that the coming year will see a milestone in the international efforts against Iran’s nuclear program. It will either take the form of offensive actions, or an agreement with Iran.
The year cannot pass without activities that will significantly change the arena,” Nuriel said.
Iran might make an 11th-hour concession that will lead to an agreement with the international community, he said.
Turning to Syria, Nuriel said that an arms development center near Damascus, which also produces chemical weapons, would make a natural target in any US strike on the Assad regime.
The Scientific Studies and Research Center, known by its French acronym, CERS, should be on the US’s target list, he said.
“This is a center that develops all types of weapons, including nonconventional arms,” he said. “This is the place where the Syrian regime realizes its fantasies on military technologies, and therefore it is fit for destruction.”
Intelligence agencies from various countries have spent years trying to figure out what is being developed at CERS, Nuriel noted. “It’s a target,” he said.
Nuriel spent 30 years serving in the IDF, including commanding the Operations Branch at the Northern Command.
Strategically, the civil war raging in Syria isn’t terrible for Israel, he said. “The Syrian army is mired in fighting and its capabilities are being eroded. Hezbollah is involved too.”
At this time, there is no known sane alternative to Syrian President Bashar Assad, meaning that there is no clear desired result to the civil war from Israel’s perspective, Nuriel argued. “If we knew about an alternative to Assad who had Western backing, alongside a Marshall program that would create a more successful outcome than in Iraq and Afghanistan, it would be easier to know.
But no one in the world knows what the alternative to Assad will be.”
Nuriel said he believed there will be no serious repercussions for Israel from a US strike on Syria.
Assad may order pinpoint action against Israel that will not force Jerusalem to respond.
“If there is one thing Assad knows, it’s what will happen if Israel attacks him. He and his regime will physically disappear. He’s not suffering from a delusion that he can create a coalition against Israel to divert the fire away from himself, or to get Hezbollah involved against us,” Nuriel said.
At the same time, he stressed, “We don’t have the privilege of not being ready” for Syrian retribution.
Asked if the decision by US President Barack Obama to delay a strike on Syria might embolden Iran, Nuriel said he doubted that would happen.
“The Syrians are really not like the Iranians. They don’t have the same daring as the Iranians, the same thinking, or the same goals.
The comparison does not add up. There is no connection between these arenas.
Nuclear capabilities can’t be compared to chemical capabilities. Syria’s chemical weapons haven’t made a huge impression. We have the ability to take defensive and offensive action against them. I would not extrapolate from what is taking place with Syria to Iran. I wouldn’t advise the Iranians to take away any lessons from Syria,” he said.
As Syria continues to attract radical Sunni jihadi elements, Nuriel warned that pro-al-Qaida forces are “alive and kicking everywhere” in the region. “In some places, this is a counter- reaction to extremist Shi’ite jihadists. There’s a rivalry between the two camps. In the midst of their confrontation, they can attack Western and Israeli targets, too. The Sunni jihad is already here. It’s in Sinai, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.”
Asked why Israeli deterrence against Hezbollah didn’t dissuade the Lebanese terrorist organization from repeatedly trying to attack Israeli targets overseas, Nuriel said Hezbollah viewed such operations as running a low risk of Israeli retaliation.
Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threatClick here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat
“Hezbollah is assisting the Syrian regime, and is bleeding as a result. But it must also raise the flag of ‘resistance’ to justify its existence.
It can’t do it in Lebanon where it’s too dangerous.
When it looks at its record of overseas attacks, Hezbollah sees that it hasn’t succeeded, and when it has, nothing has happened,” he said.
Israeli policy is guided by the results of terrorist attacks, Nuriel continued.
“If a terror attack abroad kills 50 Israelis, there will of course be a response. But I don’t know where the line is drawn. Hezbollah might wake up [after launching an overseas terrorist attack] to find that some of its people, or storage facilities, are missing.”