On Tuesday, Barak, in an interview with Israel Radio, said that while he was not optimistic about the international community imposing â€œdeadly sanctionsâ€ against Iran in the light of the latest findings about its nuclear weapons programs, he was still hopeful that it would happen. He added that Israel had long been well aware of the recently revealed details about the nuclear program, and was better informed on the matter than either the UN nuclear weapons monitors or The Washington Post.
When asked about whether Israel needed US permission to launch a strike against Iran, he responded that even though the US supports Israel in many different ways, in the end â€œIsrael is a sovereign state,â€ and must be responsible for its own safety. He said that no decision has yet been made to launch an attack on Iran, but then added that in the event that Israel is drawn into a war with Iran, â€œfears that it will suffer mass casualties are unfounded.â€
In the Knesset last week, Netanyahu again sounded the alarm on Iran. â€œA nuclear Iran will be a dire threat to the Middle East and the entire world, and it is of course a direct and grave threat to us,â€ he said. Israelâ€™s defense doctrine, Netanyahu added, â€œmust also include attack capability, which is the cornerstone of deterrence.â€
On Friday, Peres said that Western intelligence services were â€œlooking at the ticking clock, warning leaders that there is not much time leftâ€ to stop Iran getting the atomic bomb.
Another indication that a preemptive Israeli strike on Iranâ€™s nuclear facilities may be in the works was an Israeli military exercise that seemed to some to be a dry run for such a mission. In addition, the scheduled withdrawal of the last of the American support troops from Iraq before the end of this year means that the US will be taking down its no-fly zone over the country, which means that Israeli aircraft on a strike mission against Iran will soon be able to use the most direct route, and fly through Iraqi airspace without first having to notify or ask permission from the US military.
UN NUCLEAR MONITOR HAS NEW EVIDENCE
Fresh evidence of Iranâ€™s belligerent intentions for its nuclear development program is contained in a new report by the weapons monitors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UNâ€™s nuclear proliferation watchdog, which shows that Iran has received help mastering several of the critical steps needed to turn highly enriched uranium into nuclear warheads. They could then be mounted onto Iranâ€™s arsenal of long range ballistic missiles, which have the range to reach Israel and much of Western Europe.
The US reportedly has used the growing prospect of an Israeli first strike to try to galvanize the UN Security Council to pass new sanctions against Iran, based upon the latest IAEA report. However, there is no indication that Russia and China, which have blocked or watered down previous proposed Security Council actions, are any more willing to cooperate in such efforts now.
OBAMA AND THE FRENCH STILL TALKING ABOUT SANCTIONS
President Barack Obama, speaking at the Group of 20 summit in Cannes, France last week, cited the â€œneed to maintain the unprecedented pressure on Iran,â€ while French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned that â€œFrance would not idly stand byâ€ if Israel faced a threat to its survival.
In Paris, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe warned that Israeli military action could destabilize the entire Middle East, which is why France will, instead, seek to further harden the four rounds of international sanctions already in place against Iran.
â€œWe can still strengthen them (sanctions) to put pressure on Iran and we are going to continue along this path because a military intervention could create a totally destabilizing situation in the region. We must do everything to avoid the irreparable,â€ Juppe said in a radio interview.
Iranâ€™s progress towards achieving nuclear weapons capability comes at a time when the countryâ€™s leadership is strained by scandal, political infighting and international controversy over recent US allegations that it plotted to assassinate a Saudi diplomat in Washington.
IRANIANS STILL DEFIANT
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remains defiant in the face of the fresh US and Israeli accusations. In an interview published Monday in an Egyptian newspaper, he addressed the growing drumbeat in the West against his countryâ€™s nuclear ambitions.
â€œYes, we have military capabilities that are different from any other country in the region,â€ Ahmadinejad said. â€œIran is increasing in capability and therefore we are able to compete with Israel and the West and especially the United States. The US fears Iranâ€™s capability, and Iran will not permit (anyone to make) a move against it.â€
He again denied that Iran owns a nuclear bomb, but said that Israelâ€™s end was inevitable, despite its nuclear arsenal.
On Sunday, a senior member of Iranâ€™s ruling Islamic council dismissed Israeli threats of a military strike as empty propaganda, and said that Israel was screaming â€œlike a cornered catâ€ rather than roaring like a lion.
Ayatollah Mahmoud Alavi said, â€œthere is a difference between the roar of a lion and the scream of a cat that has been trapped in a corner, and this threat of the Zionist regime and its master America is like the scream of a cornered cat.â€
While Israel has welcomed the recent US expressions deepening concern over the Iranian nuclear program, there is still no indication that the Obama administration is willing to launch an American first strike against the Iranian nuclear program, or even take an active role in assisting an Israeli air assault.
ISRAEL HAS NOT BEEN WASTING TIME
Israeli leaders have not stood idly by as Iranian leaders pursued a nuclear weapons capability. Iranâ€™s leaders have never tried to hide their hostile intentions toward Israel, or their role as the supplier of money, training and weapons to Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza and the West Bank to wage war a terrorist war on Israelâ€™s civilian population.
Up until 2007, Israel worked in close cooperation with the Bush administration to try to stop the Iranian nuclear program, through diplomacy if possible, but with the use of military force as a last resort, if all else failed.
The decision by the Bush administration in 2007 to back away from the military option forced Israel to start planning for a military strike on its own, as well as other measures to slow down the progress of the Iranian nuclear program. These included an apparent effort by Israeli agents operating inside Iran to assassinate key Iranian nuclear scientists, attempts to disrupt the nuclear programâ€™s international supply chain for critical components, and a separate project, apparently with US help, to design a computer virus specifically to cripple Iranâ€™s critical uranium enrichment centrifuges.
STUXNET VIRUS SABOTAGED IRANâ€™S CENTRIFUGES
The resulting Stuxnet virus apparently succeeded in infecting the computerized controls at Iranâ€™s Natanz enrichment facility. The virus issued instructions to the centrifuges to speed up to the point where they physically self-destructed, while at the same time sending false readings to the monitoring equipment in the facilityâ€™s control rooms so that the technicians on duty were unaware of the damage being done. Reportedly, the Stuxnet virus set back the Iranian nuclear weapons program by a year or more. Iran claims that the damage done by the virus has been repaired; the damaged centrifuges have been replaced by machines based upon a newer design, and the enrichment of uranium for use as bomb material is now proceeding at an accelerated pace.
In response, there have been reports in the US media that even more sophisticated cyber attacks are now being planned or carried out by the US and Israel in order to hobble the nuclear weapons program.
Perhaps not coincidentally, there are reports that the Iranians have encountered fresh difficulties with their new centrifuge equipment, possibly as the result of their own poor quality control, or Israeli sabotage of some of the key imported raw materials.
IRAN HAS ENOUGH MATERIAL FOR 4 BOMBS
Nevertheless, after a slowdown over the last two years, Iranian stockpiles of enriched uranium are now growing at an accelerating rate. It is now believed that they have enough on hand to build at least four nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the newly uncovered information in the IAEA report makes it clear that the Iranians also have the expertise to build the other necessary components of a practical nuclear warhead for their inventory of long rang ballistic missiles.
Leaders of Western governments are particularly alarmed by Iranâ€™s recent efforts to boost the purity level of its enriched uranium while moving key parts of its nuclear program into underground bunkers.
â€œWeâ€™re moving into very stormy seas,â€ said Olli Heinonen, who retired last year as the chief inspector for the IAEA.
Although Iranâ€™s nuclear program has weathered a damaging cyber attack and numerous other setbacks since 2009, its apparently successful deployment of advanced centrifuges in recent months could lead to a dramatic rise in the production of enriched uranium, Heinonen said.
Iranâ€™s first-generation centrifuges â€œwere not good enough for most reasonable breakout scenarios,â€ Heinonen said. â€œBut the concern now is over whether itâ€™s possible for them to ramp up production with these more advanced centrifuges,â€ which are estimated to be up to six times more efficient.
NEW IRANIAN PLANT DUG IN
Western officials have expressed dismay over recent Iranian decisions to redeploy their newest centrifuge machines to a new complex known as Fordow, where they will be used to create a more purified type of enriched uranium that is closer to weapons-grade material. Fordow was built into the side of a small mountain and is regarded as less vulnerable to Israeli airstrikes.
After watching Iran struggle last year to contain the damage from Stuxnet, US officials have followed the migration to Fordow with increasing dismay, said Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear policy expert with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, a nonprofit research group.
â€œAfter Stuxnet, there was a sense that we still had some time, but the Iranians kept on going,â€ Lewis said. â€œThey said, â€˜Fine, weâ€™ll just put it under the mountain.â€™ And that move now looks a lot more aggressive.â€
This raises the question of how much more the US and Israeli campaigns of sanctions, assassination, cyber attacks and sabotage can do to further delay the Iranian nuclear program. The answer is, now that the element of surprise in these tactics is gone, probably not much.
IRAN NEARING ITS GOAL
The Iranians have been working on their nuclear project for 20 years, and despite all of the setbacks, they are finally getting very close to their goal. They are digging in their new plants deeper underground, and pre-enriching their uranium at higher levels to make it much harder for anyone to stop them now.
Nevertheless, nobody expects the latest revelations in the IAEA report to prompt more effective international action against Iran. Western governments are believed to have been aware of these activities for some time. China and Russia have already complained to the head of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano. They claim that revealing the new evidence and passing more sanctions will only further harden Iranâ€™s resolve to achieve nuclear weapons capability as quickly as they can.
Meanwhile, the only effective economic weapon the Obama administration still has for unilateral action against Iran would be to ban all Iranian oil exports. With the price of gasoline at the pump already painfully high, the Obama administration is unwilling to risk the domestic political fallout for an action that could drive those prices even higher in a presidential election year.
Despite his bombastic promises while running for president in 2008 that he would make sure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, Obama is perfectly willing to take a back seat in any effort to further discipline Iran. When IAEA director Yukia Amano met with officials of the White House National Security Council two weeks ago to discuss the report on Iran, a White House spokesman later declined to confirm that Amano had even been there.
IRANIANS STRIKING BACK
The Iranians have responded to US and Israeli moves in their own ways. Some analysts believe that they are about to escalate their long shadow war with the US and Israel, which until now the Iranians have been carrying out largely using proxies, such as Hezbollah and Syria.
White House and CIA officials say the recent Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States by blowing up a Washington-area restaurant popular with legislators, lobbyists and journalists may be part of a stepped up worldwide Iranian terrorist campaign. US intelligence believes that the death of a Saudi diplomat in Pakistan earlier this year was actually an assassination ordered by Iran. There are also fears that plots by Iranâ€™s elite Quds Force may now be unfolding in global hot spots from Yemen to Latin America.
US intelligence agencies are particularly worried about the attack on the Saudi ambassador, because it had the potential of possibly starting a war between the two countries.
ANOTHER COLD WAR
To some US officials, the recent Iranian attacks are reminiscent of the days of the Cold War, when American CIA and Soviet KGB agents were actively plotting against each other.
One thing that US officials are unwilling to speculate over is what the Obama administration would do if it became clear that Iran did achieve a nuclear weapons capability. That would be seen as a major setback for US security and foreign policy, in light of the repeated statements by both Presidents George W. Bush and Obama that they would never let that happen.
Since 2005, Israel has made it clear that if Iran ever got too close to such a capability, it would feel compelled to launch a first strike against Iranâ€™s nuclear sites. US foreign policy since that time has been dedicated to avoiding such a scenario by finding other ways to stop the Iranians. But today it is clear that such a pre-emptive attack is once again being actively debated by Israelâ€™s leaders, and lacking a credible US alternative, it may be coming soon.
ISRAEL SHORING UP ITS DEFENSES
Against the possibility of an attack by long range Iranian missiles, Israel, with US help, has been working to shore up its missile defenses. It has recently deployed the improved Arrow 3 system which has, at least theoretically, the capability to shoot down Iranian ballistic missiles. However, as seen from the recent missile attacks on southern Israel from Gaza, even the best anti-missile system is not 100% effective, and when dealing with an attack with nuclear armed missiles, if even one gets through to its target, the results would be disastrous.
Last week, the Israeli home defense command conducted a widely publicized civil defense drill simulating an enemy missile attack on Israelâ€™s population centers. The exercise included the sounding of air-raid sirens in the Tel Aviv area and the dispatch of rescue crews to simulated missile impact sites. Trying to downplay its significance, the army said that such drills are held several times a year in Israel, and that the latest exercise had been planned months in advance. But nobody missed the significance of its timing in light of the escalating tensions with Iran.
THE US NIGHTMARE SCENARIO – TERRORIST NUKES
The US recently spent billions of dollars to install anti-missile systems for its Arab allies. It is also putting more ships and weapons into the Persian Gulf to combat the growing Iranian military threat felt by Saudi Arabia and other Arab states still friendly with the US.
However, those conventional defenses are useless if Iran gives a portable nuclear weapon to one of its client terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah or Hamas. They could easily plant it surreptitiously in one of the countries friendly to the US, or even an American city, allowing Iran to deny responsibility when it went off. It could take weeks or even months for US scientists to positively identify the bombâ€™s ultimate source as Iran, and by then it might be very difficult for a US president to justify ordering a suitable retaliation in kind.
This is the kind of nightmare scenario which worries many US security experts, and so far, they have no answer for it. That is why there is more than a little sympathy in the US security establishment for Israelâ€™s aggressive position. The Iranian nuclear threat to the US is not that far removed. Yet, by every indication, Obama has still kept the direct US option of a preemptive military strike against Iran â€œoff the table.â€ But so far that doesnâ€™t mean that the US is unwilling to help Israel to protect itself in that way.
A DRY RUN IN SYRIA
In 2007, the US is believed to have helped Israel to disable the Russian-built Syrian air defense system which allowed Israeli aircraft to fly over Syria and destroy a secret North Korean-built nuclear facility in the Syrian desert. Using sophisticated US computer technology, the Israelis were able to temporarily seize control of the Syrian air defense system and hide the approaching Israeli aircraft from detection by the systemâ€™s operators. Similar Russian air defense equipment is used by Iran to defend their nuclear installations.
After the 2007 attack, Russian technicians were sent to Syria to try to find out how the Israelis defeated their system. Since then, Israel and the US have managed to convince the Russians not to deliver to Iran the next generation of their air defense system which the Iranians had already bought. This means that the Iranian nuclear facilities are probably still vulnerable to the same kind of Israeli air attack.
In addition, Israeli military censors recently allowed the publication of detailed domestic media reports that it is building up its nuclear second strike capability, using cruise missiles launched from West German made submarines.
The Israeli military announced last week that it tested a new model of a long-range missile. Israel has been reported to be upgrading its Jericho 3 missile so it can be fitted with a nuclear warhead.
ANOTHER DRY RUN OVER ITALY
Israel also said that its air force conducted training exercises over several days with Italian warplanes in Sardinia simulating long-distance missions. One Israeli pilot who participated said that the maneuvers allowed the air force to simulate missions â€œin a very large area, much larger than we can in Israel.â€ Haaretz said that the exercise, one of several in recent years carried out with friendly foreign air forces, included mid-air refueling.
Israelâ€™s offensive capabilities in that area have been enhanced in recent years. In 2008, the Bush administration denied an Israeli request for a new generation of US-made bunker busting bombs which it would have needed to attack Iranâ€™s underground installations, as well as auxiliary equipment for US-made Israeli attack jets needed to conduct long range bombing missions. It was reported at the time that the refusal caused Israeli leaders to shelve their plans to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran at that time. However, over the past year, the Obama administration has reportedly supplied the Israeli military with the bombs and equipment which was denied earlier.
SENDING A MESSAGE THROUGH THE ISRAELI MEDIA
Israel never acknowledged that it possesses nuclear weapons, and Israeli media are not permitted to publish sensitive military information. The fact that such reports appeared in the Israeli media, and were discussed by some of Israelâ€™s leading journalists, was itself significant. It was a clear warning by Israel to Iranâ€™s leaders and the rest of the world that Israel is both willing and able to destroy their Iran, even if Iran succeeds in striking at Israel first with its missiles.
Taken separately, none of the recent Israeli military actions is unprecedented. But with renewed warnings by Israeli leaders about the growing Iranian nuclear threat, and the detailed reports on Israelâ€™s military option against Iran, have led some Israeli cabinet ministers to complain that sensitive security matters are being compromised.
â€œIn matters of security, confidentiality is vital and even critical,â€ Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio. â€œSuch sensitive issues must not be raised.â€
According to left wing Israeli media reports, some Israeli security experts still oppose a first strike on Iran due to concerns about the likely retaliation by Iran and Iranian-backed terrorists in Lebanon and Gaza who have tens of thousands of Iranian supplied missiles in place for such an attack, including some with sufficient range to reach any city in Israel.
NETANYAHU AND BARAK PREPARING TO ACT
Speculation that Israeli leaders are now seriously considering taking such action leaped into the headlines after widely read columnist Nahum Barnea asked in an article published in Yediot Acharonot whether Netanyahu and Barak had decided between themselves to launch a preemptive attack on Iranâ€™s nuclear installations, and are now pursuing that objective.
Barnea wrote that the question is now preoccupying Israeli security and government officials, as well as foreign governments. The US, in particular, fears that such an attack could drag it into an open Israeli-Iranian war.
Haaretz reported that Netanyahu and Barak are working to mobilize support within the Israeli cabinet for such a strike and had already won over Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. However, Haaretz says a majority of the senior cabinet ministers oppose such an attack.
Appearing before a Knesset appropriations committee this week, Barak made a statement that seemed to hint that Israel does have active military contingency plans to go it alone in an attack on Iran, if necessary, to protect itself against the Iranian nuclear threat to Israelâ€™s existence.
Arguing against any significant cuts in Israelâ€™s defense budget, Barak warned that â€œsituations can be created in the Middle East in which Israel will have to protect its interests or insist on vital matters by itself, without necessarily depending on regional or other forces for assistance.â€
However, in an earlier interview on Israel Army Radio, Barak dismissed suggestions that he and Netanyahu had already decided among themselves to launch such a strike. He said, â€œyou donâ€™t have to be a great genius to understand that in the Israel of 2011, thereâ€™s no such thing as two people deciding to do something.â€
ANOTHER 1939 SCENARIO
Netanyahu has said that the Iranian nuclear program poses the same kind of threat to Israelâ€™s existence that President Franklin Roosevelt felt when he received an urgent letter from Albert Einstein in 1939 warning him that Nazi scientists were making rapid progress in developing the technology to build an atomic bomb. That led Roosevelt to authorize the Manhattan Project to win the race to build the worldâ€™s first atomic bomb. Ironically, the Nazi nuclear effort was hampered by Allied sabotage. By the time the war in Europe ended, the Germans far behind the US. But in the summer of 1945, when the US did gain that capability, President Truman chose to use it to shorten the war in the Pacific against Japan.
Some Israeli leaders are reported to believe that the international sanctions which have so far failed to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear program may have had the opposite effect, by making Iran feel more isolated. In addition, the Iranians feel threatened by the growing revolt against Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose close cooperation with Iranian policy initiatives has been crucial to Iranâ€™s recent successes in extending its influence throughout the region.
Finally, the Iranian leaders no doubt see the recent willingness of the US and its European allies to use military force to help oust the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhaffi as another incentive to gain a nuclear capability in order to escape his fate.
â€œOne should ask: would Europe have intervened in Libya if Gadhaffi had possessed nuclear weapons?â€ the Israeli defense minister asked on Israel army radio last week. â€œWould the US have toppled Saddam Hussein if he had nuclear weapons?â€
Barak clearly believe that the answer would be â€œnoâ€ to both questions.
RUSSIAN SCIENTIST HELPING THE IRANIANS
The documents and other records recently discovered by the IAEA provide new details on the role played by a former Soviet weapons scientist who tutored Iranians on building precision electronic detonators of the kind used to trigger a nuclear chain reaction in an atomic bomb.
Iran had relied on foreign experts, mainly from North Korea, to supply mathematical formulas and codes for theoretical bomb design work. Additional expertise was provided by Abdul Qadeer Khan, known as the father of Pakistanâ€™s nuclear weapons program. One of his designs for a device known as a neutron initiator was found by the IAEA inspectors in Iran. It shoots a stream of sub-atomic particles called neutrons into a bombâ€™s uranium core in order to initiate the nuclear chain reaction. The existence of Khanâ€™s international nuclear black market was revealed when Libya disclosed its own nuclear weapons program in 2003. He also provided the Libyans with his design for a neutron initiator.
One Iranian document uncovered by the IAEA revealed plans for a four-year research project on neutron initiators by Iranian scientists to begin in 2007.
IAEA officials cite secret intelligence collected over several years in their latest report on the Iranian nuclear weapons program after 2003. At that point, US intelligence agencies believe, Iran briefly halted its nuclear work in response to rising international pressures, including the US-led invasion of Iraq, but then resumed the project.
Some US arms-control groups have cautioned against what they fear could be an overreaction to the IAEA report, saying there is still time to persuade Iran to change its behavior, even though there has been little progress made by diplomatic efforts, backed by UN sanctions, in stopping the determined Iranian drive to achieve nuclear weapons capability.
IRAN SAYS IT DOESNâ€™T CARE
Iranian officials expressed indifference about the publication of the new IAEA report.
â€œLet them publish and see what happens,â€ said Iranâ€™s foreign minister and former nuclear top official, Ali Akbar Salehi, the semiofficial Iranian Mehr News Agency reported.
Salehi said that the controversy over Iranâ€™s nuclear program is â€œ100 percent politicalâ€ and that the IAEA is â€œunder pressure from foreign powers.â€
Although the IAEA has complained for years about Iranâ€™s refusal to come clean about a number of its nuclear weapons-related scientific projects, the new disclosures shed more light on the secret research program, showing it to be more ambitious, more organized and more successful than had been previously believed.
IRAN WORKING ON ALL FRONTS
According David Albright, a former IAEA official who has reviewed the intelligence files, Iranian scientists have been working concurrently in multiple scientific and technical areas to obtain key skills needed to make and test a nuclear weapon that could fit inside an Iranian missile warhead.
Although the Iranians paused their work in 2003, â€œthe program never really stopped,â€ said Albright, who is president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, which is considered to be one of the worldâ€™s leading independent experts on nuclear programs in countries around the world.
â€œAfter 2003, money was made available for research in areas that sure look like nuclear weapons work but were hidden within civilian institutions,â€ Albright said.
US intelligence officials maintain that Iranâ€™s leaders have not decided whether to actually build nuclear weapons but are intent on gathering all the components and skills they would need in order to quickly assemble a bomb if they choose to launch a nuclear attack on Israel, or to conduct a public test explosion. Ever since its secret nuclear development program was first revealed almost a decade ago, Iran has consistently maintained that its nuclear activities are peaceful and intended only to generate electricity.
While the IAEA declined to comment on the intelligence in its latest report in advance of its publication, some of its highlights were discussed in a presentation by Albright at a private conference of intelligence professionals last week, and which was later obtained by The Washington Post. The accuracy of Albrightâ€™s presentation was subsequently confirmed to the newspaper by two European diplomats who have seen internal copies of the IAEA report.
IRAN NOW HAS ALL THE TECHNOLOGY
Albright said IAEA officials have concluded that Iran now â€œhas sufficient information to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear deviceâ€ using highly enriched uranium as its nuclear core. In his presentation, he described how the Iranians gained all the necessary skills to build a nuclear weapon, using both their own scientists and technicians, with a generous helping of foreign expertise.
â€œThe (intelligence) points to a comprehensive project structure and hierarchy with clear responsibilities, timelines and deliverables,â€ Albright said.
According to Albright, one key breakthrough was Iranâ€™s success in obtaining design information for a device known as an R265 generator. The device is a hemispherical aluminum shell that is lined with pellets of high explosives and electrically wired so the detonations occur in split-second precision. The explosions compress a small sphere of enriched uranium or plutonium to create the critical mass of fissionable material needed to trigger a nuclear chain reaction explosion.
BUILDING THE DETONATOR
Creating such a device is a formidable technical challenge, and Iran needed outside assistance in designing the generator and testing its performance, Albright said.
According to the intelligence provided to the IAEA, key assistance was provided by Vyacheslav Danilenko, a former Soviet nuclear scientist who was contracted in the mid-1990s by Iranâ€™s Physics Research Center, a facility linked to the countryâ€™s nuclear program. Danilenko assisted the Iranians over at least a five year period, giving lectures and sharing research papers on developing and testing an explosives package that the Iranians have apparently incorporated into their missile warhead designs.
Danilenkoâ€™s role in the Iranian project was judged to be so critical that IAEA investigators devoted considerable effort to obtaining his cooperation in their investigation. The Russian scientist acknowledged his role but said he thought his work was limited to assisting civilian engineering projects. There is no evidence that Russian government officials knew of Danilenkoâ€™s activities in Iran. Requests by the Washington Post for comment on the subject from Russian officials in Washington and Moscow received no reply.
One of the crucial pieces of new evidence the IAEA has, concerns the activity at an Iranian military base called Parchin. That is where they are testing designs for what is called an â€œimplosion deviceâ€ to trigger a nuclear explosion by creating a critical mass of uranium or plutonium. The uses a sphere made out of pieces of conventional explosives shaped so as to create a blast that compresses a ball of fissionable material enough to start the nuclear chain reaction. The explosives are cast into special shapes that can focus the energy of the blast on the nuclear core rather than letting it dissipate in all directions. The castings are known as explosive lenses, and their proper design is extremely difficult.
Iran briefly allowed IAEA inspectors into Parchin seven years ago, claiming at the time that they were working there exclusively on conventional weapons. At that time, the inspectors found no evidence to the contrary.
However, recent satellite photographs of Parchin, and other information gathered by Western intelligence agencies, indicate that the location is now being used primarily for implosion experiments which have only one practical military use, building triggers for nuclear weapons.
The conclusion that Iran is building nuclear weapons, despite its years of vehement denials is inescapable.
The true nature of Iranâ€™s nuclear intentions has long been clear. The latest IAEA discoveries only confirm the obvious. What has been lacking has been the necessary will by the US and its Western allies to do what is necessary to stop it.
But after years of public posturing and broken promises by two US presidents, and fatally compromised international economic sanctions, time is running out. It appears that Israel has been left to meet Iranâ€™s deadly nuclear threat to its existence by itself, and that Israelâ€™s leaders are now in the final stages of preparing to do so. May Hashem help and protect our brethren in this time of danger.
The Washington Post contributed to this story.