Wednesday 18 October 2017

Turmoil could spark air strike against Iran

Anne Penketh

Iran's open support for Hamas, coupled with US and Israeli accusations that Tehran has supplied it with weapons, could harden Israeli public opinion in favour of military strikes against Iran whose nuclear programme is seen as an "existential" threat to the Jewish state.

The Gaza assault has provided a reminder that behind the Middle East conflict lies Barack Obama's biggest international challenge in 2009: curbing Iranian nuclear ambitions which, if left unchecked, could change the global strategic balance within months.

With Israeli elections looming, and leading contenders for prime minister refusing to rule out force to stop Iran gaining a bomb, international attention will soon return to Tehran's defiance of the UN by continuing to enrich uranium.

The question is, how long would it take Iran to produce enough stockpiles of low-enriched uranium to build a weapon? If it decided to go the military route, which would contradict its position that its programme is for energy, Tehran would have either to build a clandestine facility (which UN inspectors have not detected) or throw out the inspectors, which it has been loath to do so far.

Independent US and British analysts say that in a few months, Iran will have accumulated enough low-enriched uranium to upgrade to fuel for one bomb. But as Mark Fitzpatrick, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, has said: "Being able to enrich uranium is not the same as having a weapon."

According to estimates by the International Institute for Science and Security (Isis), Iran has produced 425kg of low-enriched uranium, or enough to make half the quantity necessary for a crude bomb. (© Independent News Service)

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