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      News Analysis: Iranian Nuclear Threat Growing

      An Iranian opposition group warned Thursday the Islamic Republic is continuing advanced nuclear development; Israel prepares for a possible clash.
      By Hana Levi Julian
      First Publish: 8/25/2006, 10:43 AM / Last Update: 8/25/2006, 1:35 PM

      Iranian nuclear development is proceeding apace as the international community continues to drag its feet on responding to the uranium enrichment program, despite a warning from an Iranian opposition group.

      The National Council of Resistance of Iran, an organization whose mission is to overthrow the Iranian government by force, said Thursday that the Islamic republic has built at least 15 “P-2” advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium more effectively. The organization warned that “hundreds” of the centrifuges will be in place and working by next year if the international community does not find a way to stop the Iranian uranium enrichment program.

      Uranium enrichment is a step in the process to produce nuclear energy, which may then be used for domestic purposes -- or to produce weapons of mass destruction. It is uncertain why an energy rich country such as Iran would develop alternative energy sources, and therefore it is weapons threat that Israel has continued to monitor closely.

      Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made repeated calls for the utter destruction of Israel, and is believed to be behind Hizbullah’s recent sustained attack on Israel.

      Israeli Concern Growing
      Israeli officials are becoming increasingly concerned over the lack of a concrete international response to Iran’s refusal to end the program.

      Prior to the war with Hizbullah terrorists in southern Lebanon, IDF Chief of General Staff Dan Halutz already began making preparations for facing Iran.

      Halutz appointed Israel Air Force Commander Major General Eliezer Shkedy to lead a project to “tune up” Israeli preparations for a possible confrontation with Iran. Shkedy’s official capacity is to supervise forces and battle plans in the event of a war with countries that do not border Israel.

      International Community Continues to Procrastinate
      The United Nations Security Council has been wrestling with Iran over the issue for months. In the first week of June, a compromise package was offered to the Islamic republic that provided incentives to at least suspend, if not permanently end the program.

      At the beginning of August, Iranian President Ahmadinejad officially announced his rejection of the offer. The formal Iranian response was submitted to the U.N. on August 22, nine days ahead of the Security Council deadline set for Iran to end the program or face international sanctions.

      International leaders, including U.S. President George W. Bush, decided to defer its call for sanctions against the recalcitrant nation after receiving Iran’s 21-page counter-offer.

      “We acknowledge that Iran considers its response a serious offer and we will review it,” said a statement issued by the State Department. U.S. officials told reporters that France and Britain persuaded Bush to delay any concrete response.

      French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told reporters on Friday that Iran’s response was indeed not good enough. He added, however, that it was important to avoid a conflict with the Islamic nation and by extension, with the Muslim world. “For the moment it is not satisfactory,” he said in an interview on RTL Radio.

      Iran Tests Missiles While Uranium Enrichment Continues Unchecked
      Iran’s counter offer also came a day after the country tested a new missile with a range of 250 kilometers. The new “Saegheh” (lightning) missile is primarily a threat to Israel.

      According to the Iranians the test was carried out to demonstrate its level of preparation should it face any threat from “the West” – primarily the U.S. and Israel. Israel’s security leaders suspect the new missiles will be passed on to Lebanon which will put the heart of the Jewish State within easy range of both Hizbullah and its handler, Iran.

      Israel’s Warnings Too Late?
      The question is whether any action against Iran – be it sanctions or attack – comes too late.

      Prime Minister Ehud Olmert used his speech to the U.S. Congress in May to warn that Iran must be stopped at all costs from continuing its nuclear development program.

      “Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of terror and a notorious violator of fundamental human rights, stands on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons,” warned Olmert in his speech four months ago. “With these weapons, the security of the entire world in put in jeopardy.”

      If Iran reaches nuclear capability, Olmert told the Congress, it would mean “mass destruction of innocent human life,” including the citizens of Israel. “For us, this is an existential threat,” he said.

      Half a year earlier, in December 2005 then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the IDF to be ready by March 2006 to carry out a strike against Iran’s secret uranium enrichment sites. The order came in the wake of intelligence reports that Iran was already operating advanced centrifuge machines hidden in civilian locations.

      “Israel – and not only Israel – cannot accept a nuclear Iran,” Sharon said. “We have the ability to deal with this and we are making all the necessary preparations to be ready for such a situation.”