Target Iran - Air Strikes - Timing
As some of the facilities are still under construction and not yet active the United States may have a window of opportunity that would allow it to destroy those locations without causing the environmental problems associated with the destruction of an active nuclear reactor.
The window of opportunity for disarming strikes against Iran will begin to close in 2005. It appears that the Uranium conversion facility in Esfahan will begin operation some time in 2005, as will the heavy water production plant at Arak. Barring further delays, the fuel for the reactor at Bushehr is also slated to be delivered in 2005, with reactor operations commencing some months after delivery. Significant Uranium enrichment could begin at Natanz in 2006, and plutonium production could begin at Arak by 2010.
Israeli Intelligence Maj. Gen. Aharon Ze'evi (Farkash) announced on TV Channel 1 in mid-August 2003: "We think that next summer, if Iran is not stopped, it will reach self-sufficiency and this is the point of no return. After this self-capability, it will take them some two years to make a nuclear bomb," When asked about reports of a preemptive attack, Ze'evi responded: "I don' t think that it is correct to speak of military capabilities at this TV studio."
Israel's defence minister Shaul Mofaz delivered a warning of "unprecedented severity" during a November 2003 visit to the United States. Mofaz stated that "under no circumstances would Israel be able to tolerate nuclear weapons in Iranian possession". He said that in the course of the next year Iran's drive for nuclear weapons would "reach the point of no return". Meir Dagan, the head of Israel's secret services, Mossad, stated that nuclear weapons in Iran represented the greatest threat Israel had faced since the founding of the Jewish state in 1948. Addressing Israel's foreign affairs and defence committee, he added that Iran's nuclear capabilities would threaten not only Israel but Europe as well.
Some sources suggested that Iran could complete development of its first nuclear weapon in 2005. US Undersecretary of State John Bolton has said Teheran told Britain, France and Germany that Iran could enrich enough uranium for a nuclear weapon within a year. "If we permit Iran's deception to go on much longer, it will be too late," Bolton told the Hudson Institute on 17 August 2004. "Iran will have nuclear weapons."
An annual Israeli intelligence assessment delivered to the government officials on 21 July 2004 estimated that Iran could have a nuclear bomb by 2008, Ma'ariv" reported on 22 July 2004. According to this report, the assessment concluded that Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons represented the greatest threat to Israel. This press report claimed that the assessment contended that international nuclear inspections in Iran had stalled the progress of Tehran's uranium-enrichment program by two or three years. This report claimed that enrichment has a long maturation process and, once halted, must be started again from scratch. Israeli Defense Force intelligence had previously claimed that Iran could have a nuclear capability by 2005.
On 13 January 2005 the Jerusalem Post reported that the head of army intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aharon Ze'evi (Farkash), told an audience at the University of Haifa that Iran will be capable of producing its own enriched uranium within six months, and would be able to produce its first nuclear bomb in the 2008 to 2010 timeframe.
On 16 February 2005 Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said that Iran was only six months away from having the knowledge to build an atomic bomb. "They are trying very hard to develop this nuclear bomb," Shalom told reporters at a briefing in London. "It is very important, because the question is not if the Iranians develop a nuclear bomb in 2009, 2010 or 2011," he said. "The main question is, are they going to develop the knowledge to do it? We believe that in six months from today they are going to end all the tests and experiments they are doing in order to have that knowledge." On 12 November 2006 Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Iran intended to install 3,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges by March 2007. Hosseini said Iran was doing all the work to install the centrifuges under control of the UN nuclear watchdog, adding that two cascades of 164 centrifuges were already in operation in the country.
Israel's deputy chief of General Staff told a conference of mayors on 08 December 2006 that Iran would have nuclear weapons "in the near future." Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky warned of the danger of the deepening alliance among Hizbullah, Syria, Iran and Hamas, saying that, "The deeper the connection between [them]. the more we need to worry." Kaplinsky said Syria was continuing to re-arm Hizbullah while both Hizbullah and Syria prepared for another round of warfare against Israel. Reports in Israeli media indicate that the army is anticipating the possibility of a resumption of the Lebanon war next summer.
On 18 December 2006 the head of Israel's Mossad intelligency agency sought to dispell the idea that it is too late to deter Iran from completing its nuclear development program. Speaking to a parliamentary committee, Meir Dagan said the concept of "a point of no return does not exist." He said the Iranians won't have a nuclear bomb before 2009, which left time for diplomacy to succeed.
CBS News reported on 18 December 2006 that the Bush administration has decided to ramp up the naval presence in the Persian Gulf to send a message to Tehran. CBS reported that an additional aircraft carrier would be added to the Gulf contingent in January 2007. A Pentagon official called the report "premature" and denied knowledge of changes in deployments in the Gulf. The New York Times reported 20 December 2006 that the Bremerton-based aircraft carrier and its strike group could leave weeks earlier than planned as part of a move to increase the U.S. military presence in and around the Middle East. Moving up the Stennis' departure date in January 2006 allows a longer overlap with USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, the carrier currently in the Persian Gulf. Eisenhower deployed 01 October 2006, and could remain on station into March 2007.
Air power "persistence" is essential. During normal cyclic flight operations, a pilot spends a significant amount of time transiting to and from target areas. It is difficult for one Carrier Air Wing [CVW] to conduct flight operations for much more than about 12 hours before having to stop. However, with the combined striking power of two CVWs, the Carrier Task Force (CTF) is able to conduct air operations over a continuous 24-hour cycle. During the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom, USS Enterprise (CVN 65) was operating with USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) off the coast of Afghanistan. When the order to launch air strikes arrived, together, both CVWs flew 24-hours a day. With the enhanced capabilities the CTF provides, by alternating air plan flight cycles, the CTF is able to maintain a nearly constant air presence over the targeted areas.
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