Ex-IAEA official: Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear plants won't stop threat

"It's important to bear in mind that Iran is not Syria or Iraq: It always has a backup plan."

IAF, USAF hold joint F-35 drill in southern Israel (photo credit: IAF)
IAF, USAF hold joint F-35 drill in southern Israel
(photo credit: IAF)
While an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities may buy some time, it won't eliminate the problem, warned Dr. Olli Heinonen, former deputy director-general at the International Atomic Energy Agency and a senior research fellow at the Stimson Center think tank, in an interview with Israel Hayom on Wednesday.
"Technically, such an attack is feasible, even though several of the [nuclear] sites would be more difficult to attack than others," explained Heinonen to Israel Hayom. "But the entire matter starts with one thing: You need to know what you are bombing because if you don't know, you have a serious problem on your hands. It's easy to say, 'We need to bomb Natanz, Fordo.' Maybe there are other [uranium] enrichment sites. You need to know the status of these facilities. Are they still there? Are we familiar with them?"
"An airstrike can help buy time, but it doesn't eliminate the problem," stressed the former IAEA deputy director-general. "It's important to bear in mind that Iran is not Syria or Iraq: It always has a backup plan. The Iranians don't put all their eggs in one basket, and I'm positive they have taken steps to ensure that parts of their nuclear program will continue functioning even in the case of an attack."
The comments come after a series of estimates concerning how long it would take Iran to develop a nuclear weapon were published by various officials and experts, ranging from a few months to a few years.
Additionally, in January, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi warned that he had ordered operational plans to strike Iran’s nuclear program to be ready if necessary, although whether to use those plans and under what circumstances was a decision for the political echelon. A week later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Kochavi, the Finance and Defense ministers and financial and military officials took part in a large meeting at the Prime Minister's Office to discuss the budget required for a potential strike on Iran if it is deemed necessary, according to KAN news.
Israeli and regional officials have expressed concerns at US President Joe Biden's intent to rejoin the nuclear deal, although Biden has stated that he would not release sanctions until Iran stops enriching uranium and the Biden administration has pushed that a longer and stronger agreement that prevents Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon and that also deals with Iran's destabilizing activities in the region is needed.
Heinonen worked in Iran for the IAEA over a period of more than 25 years, spending entire days in underground nuclear sites when the Islamic Republic's nuclear program was still brand new and as it developed.
"From the outset, I felt great discomfort over several aspects of the program," Heinonen told Israel Hayom. "I was at all the nuclear sites except for the one Fordo, but we had already known about it for a few years before my departure. We had good times and more difficult times, ups and downs."
During one visit to the Arak reactor in 2002, Heinonen asked the Iranians about 1,600 new centrifuges at the site and an Iranian expert told him that they had never been used. "There were thousands of [centrifuges] there. It just wasn't logical," said Heinonen.
In the interview, the former IAEA official advised the Biden administration to take it's time when it comes to addressing the Iranian nuclear threat. "Don't be hasty. Build a regional and international coalition," said Heinonen.