'Iran may reach key point for nuclear bomb by 2014'

US nonproliferation experts say Obama should clearly threaten military action; Tehran said to have Golan intelligence base.

Interior of Bushehr nuclear plant 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer Iran)
Interior of Bushehr nuclear plant 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer Iran)
Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one or more nuclear bombs by mid-2014, and the US and its allies should intensify sanctions on Tehran before that point is reached, a report by a group of US nonproliferation experts said.
President Barack Obama should also clearly state that the US will take military action to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, the report said.
The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has expressed concern that Iran’s nuclear program has a military dimension. Tehran, which says the program is solely for peaceful energy purposes, calls those allegations baseless.
The 154-page report produced by five nonproliferation experts, “US Nonproliferation Strategy for the Changing Middle East,” was expected to be released Monday.
“Based on the current trajectory of Iran’s nuclear program, we estimate that Iran could reach critical capability in mid-2014,” the report said.
It defined “critical capability” as the point when Iran would be able to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one or more bombs without detection by the West.
Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat
Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat
By mid-2014, Iran would have enough time to build a secret uranium enrichment site or significantly increase the number of centrifuges for its nuclear program, said David Albright, one of the project’s co-chairs and president of the Institute for Science and International Security.
“We don’t think there is any secret enrichment plant making significant secret uranium enrichment right now,” he told Reuters. But there is “real worry” that Iran would build such a plant, he said.
The report recommends that the US and its allies intensify sanction pressure on Iran prior to that point because once Tehran acquires enough weaponsgrade enriched uranium, it would be “far more difficult to stop the program militarily.”
It also recommends that the US announce its intention to use sanctions to impose a “de facto international embargo on all investments in, and trade with, Iran” if Tehran does not comply with UN Security Council resolutions.
In addition, it recommends sending a “crystal clear” message to Iran’s leaders that US military action would prevent them from succeeding in the pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
“The president should explicitly declare that he will use military force to destroy Iran’s nuclear program if Iran takes additional decisive steps toward producing a bomb,” the report said.
On the civil war in Syria, the report said the US should emphasize to the opposition trying to oust President Bashar Assad that once it comes to power, it will have to work with the international community to destroy Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile.
Failure to do so would lead to sanctions and other measures at a time when a new government would need external assistance to consolidate control and develop the economy, the report said.
It also recommended stressing to the Assad government that it should destroy the chemical weapons rather than use them and face prosecution or have them fall into the hands of the opposition.
In addition to Albright, the other project co-chairs were Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies; Prof. Orde Kittrie of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law; Leonard Spector, deputy director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies; and Michael Yaffe of the Near East, South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University.
They were not representing their institutions in the project.
A separate Congressional report states that Iran has been running a signal intelligence listening post on the Syrian Golan Heights since 2006.
The report provides in-depth coverage – much of it based on open sources – of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
“Iran appears to be trying to expand its intelligence capabilities in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. For instance, Iran seems to have developed a signals intelligence (SIGINT) capability. Two Iranian-Syrian SIGINT stations funded by the IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps] reportedly have been active since 2006, one in the al-Jazira region in northern Syria and the other on the Golan Heights [near Israel],” the report stated.
The electronic listening posts appear to concentrate on supplying information to Hezbollah in Lebanon, the report added.
The authors of the report, which was released in December, concluded that the technology installed in the two stations indicated that “Iran’s capabilities are still limited, with little scope for high-level strategic intelligence gathering.”
Recently, the IDF’s Information Security Branch identified an increase in attempts by hostile foreign intelligence entities to listen in on army communications.
The increased threat includes a major attempt to eavesdrop on cellphones used by the IDF.
Although those behind the stepped-up intelligence gathering effort were not named, an Iranian listening post in southern Syria could be one of the suspects.
The congressional report said that the Islamic Republic also had a limited capacity to collect intelligence through reconnaissance aircraft, but that only a few airplanes in Iran’s possession were designed for the task.
The document said the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security “uses all means at its disposal to protect the Islamic Revolution of Iran, utilizing such methods as infiltrating internal opposition groups, monitoring domestic threats and expatriate dissent, arresting alleged spies and dissidents, exposing conspiracies deemed threatening, and maintaining liaisons with other foreign intelligence agencies as well as with organizations that protect the Islamic Republic’s interests around the world.”
The report went on to note that Iranian embassies abroad had formed headquarters for the country’s intelligence agents, as well as for the national carrier Iran Air, branches of Iranian banks and even private businesses.
“Every minister of intelligence must hold a degree in ijtihad [interpreting Islamic sources such as the Koran and the words of the Prophet Muhammad and the imams] from a religious school, abstain from membership in any political party or group, have a reputation for personal integrity and possess a strong political and management background,” the report said.