Ya'alon: Iran will have nukes within two years

Ya'alon tells US Jewish leaders that West lacks unification and determination to face down Teheran.

Iran missiles 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Iran missiles 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
With Iran less than two years away from acquiring nuclear capability, a combined strategy of political isolation, increased economic sanctions and the threat of military action as a last resort is the best way to prevent the Islamic Republic from acquiring nuclear weapons, former chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon said Monday. He said warily that President-elect Barack Obama's readiness for tough diplomacy could be constructive, provided it advanced that three-pronged strategy. "It's a matter of a couple [of] years, one to two years, not more than that, until Iran is capable of coming out with nuclear capability," Ya'alon told a gathering of North American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. The former military chief is on the verge of entering politics, and has been touted as a possible future defense minister in a government led by Likud opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu. In his remarks, Ya'alon said that the West, which had been holding on-again, off-again negotiations with Iran for the past five years, had been split by disagreements and economic interests, emboldening Iran and reducing the efficacy of economic sanctions. "The problem in the West is a lack of unification and determination," he said to a delegation of North American Jews at the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities. He spelled out a three-pronged strategy of diplomatic isolation, increased economic sanctions and the threat of military action as the best way of dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat - creating "internal change without direct involvement." He noted that economic sanctions to date had already made an impact, and that in the past the Islamic Republic had been influenced by the prospect of an imminent attack. At the same time, Ya'alon said that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a nightmare for both Israel and the West. "We can deter them, but we cannot be reconciled with them," he said. In his address, Ya'alon conceded that even a military option - similar to Israel's bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981- wouldn't be "the end of the game" with Iran, as the Osirak attack had been with Iraq, and would necessarily require follow-up operations, in addition to political and diplomatic moves. Asked what carrots could be offered to Teheran in an effort to coax the Islamic Republic to stop enriching uranium, Ya'alon said that "the main carrot regarding Iran is avoiding the sticks." The former chief of staff, who currently serves as a fellow at the Shalem Center, a conservative Jerusalem research institute, was silent about his expected entry into Israeli politics. "This is my personal issue, and I will have to deal with it," he said tersely. Ya'alon's tenure as IDF chief from 2002 to 2005 was marked by both a successful crackdown on Palestinian terrorism and his very overt falling-out with then prime minister Ariel Sharon over Ya'alon's opposition to the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Last year, Ya'alon said that the corruption manifest in Israeli society and its leadership was more worrisome than the Iranian nuclear threat. Emily Landau, a senior research associate at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, said in an address entitled "Iran's ticking time bomb" before the same panel that "the international community, which has been deadlocked on Iran, is more and more paralyzed, even amid increasing signs that Iran is pressing ahead with its nuclear capabilities." In contrast to Ya'alon, Landau said that Israel might have to reconcile itself to a nuclear Iran. She stressed, however, that she hoped that would not be the case, and that it would not be in Israel's interest. She said neither sanctions nor military action would solve the problem, and predicted that US-Iranian negotiations were likely to begin soon under the new Obama administration. "These [negotiations] have to be [conducted] when Iran is under pressure," she concluded.