Quoting unnamed military sources, the report states that Israeli intelligence warned its government that Iran was operating small enrichment facilities concealed in civilian locations. The Times says that Sharon has ordered the military to prepare for a possible strike by the end of March.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and sources in Sharon's office deny the Times report. "Israel is dealing with the Iranian issue only with diplomatic tools," Shalom said. Sharon staffers said the paper's report is totally untrue.
It is known that Iran will be able to build a nuclear warhead 2-4 year after it receives the technical expertise to enrich sufficient quantities of uranium - known as the "point of no return." No country will be able to bomb the reactor once this point is reached, for fear that the radioactive fallout will harm an unknown number of thousands of civilians.
The question is, when will this point be reached? The Times says that Israeli defense sources believe it will be the end of March.
It has been noted that this is "coincidentally" the time when Israeli elections will be held. MK Yuval Shteinitz (Likud), chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, was asked about the timing on Army Radio today. He said, "I believe that in issues like this that truly are life-and-death questions for Israel, no Prime Minister, including Sharon [of the rival party Kadima - ed.] would take action out of electoral considerations. Neither him nor any other Prime Minister."
Shteinitz said, "I refuse to relate to what Israel can or should do [regarding Iran] on the military plane. Regarding other countries, like the United States, certainly there is a military option against Iran... The Iranians feel vulnerable to an air strike; they have deployed air defenses around all their nuclear sites."
"The Iranian threat is a global one," Shteinitz said, "and not only upon Israel, but against the West and entire world. It is therefore desirable that the enlightened world, led by the US, take care of this threat. The world is doing too little, too late. Iran has passed the half-way mark and is coming close to nuclear weapons. The world has sufficed up to now with diplomacy and rhetoric."
Just last week, Prime Minister Sharon said, "I think it's clear that we cannot allow a situation in which Iran becomes a nuclear power... This is an international problem, and not just ours."
Two days ago, U.S. Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph said that Iran is closing in on nuclear weapon production and that even U.N. sanctions may not deter it. He said the Iranian government is "very aggressive, very determined to develop nuclear weapons." Iran claims it is seeking only civilian nuclear power, but "we know this is not the case," Joseph said.
Mohammed El-Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said on Friday, "the international community is losing patience" with Iran's nuclear program. Speaking in Oslo just a day before receiving his Nobel Peace Prize, El-Baradei said he hopes that the issue will be cleared up by the time he presents his next report on Iran in March. He still feels that diplomacy must be employed to solve the problem.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz does not agree. He told members of the foreign press a week ago that he does not believe American and European diplomatic pressures on Iran regarding the nuclear enrichment efforts will bear fruit.
"If a military operation is approved," the Sunday Times reports, "Israel will use air and ground forces against several nuclear targets in the hope of stalling Tehran’s nuclear program for years, according to Israeli military sources." The paper also quotes IDF Intelligence Chief Gen. Aharon Ze'evi-Farkash as having warned the Knesset this month that “if by the end of March the international community is unable to refer the Iranian issue to the United Nations security council, then we can say the international effort has run its course.”