Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, refused to rule out military action against Iran yesterday, heightening expectations that his government is preparing to authorise an attack on Tehran’s nuclear facilities.
In an interview with the BBC, Mr Barak said that sanctions and international diplomacy had so far failed to deter Iran from seeking to build a nuclear bomb, a prospect that would, he warned, threaten the stability of the “whole world”.
“We strongly believe that sanctions are effective or could be effective if they are … paralysing enough, that diplomacy could work if enough unity could be synchronised between the major players, but that no option should be removed from the table,” he told the Andrew Marr Show.
The minister’s comments come after a week of increasingly insistent claims in the Israeli press that Mr Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu, his prime minister, are lobbying cabinet colleagues to support military strikes against Iran.
The two men, considered Israel’s chief political hawks when it comes to Iran, are hoping that a report to be submitted by the UN’s nuclear watchdog this week will provide justification for military action, observers and officials have suggested.
Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency are expected to present the most compelling evidence yet that Iran is exploring ways to build a nuclear weapon, although European diplomats say the report will not amount to “a smoking gun”.
Even so, the Israeli government will seize on its findings to urge the international community to take more decisive action.
The Netanyahu administration tasked Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, with mounting a diplomatic offensive over the weekend in the belief that his dovish credentials will make its case even more compelling.
In a series of interviews, Mr Peres warned that time was running out to prevent Iran from fulfilling its perceived nuclear ambitions and appeared to urge the international community to consider the military option.
“The possibility of a military attack against Iran is now closer to being applied than the application of a diplomatic option,” he told the Israel Hayom newspaper.
The key conclusions of the IAEA report will inevitably refocus international attention on Iran.Â It is expected to confirm that Iran has enough fissile material to build four nuclear bombs if it were further to enrich the uranium in its stockpiles. But it is an appendix, already partly leaked, that concentrates of the military aspect of Iran’s nuclear programme which will garner most interest.
Satellite images will show a large steel container at the Parchin base near Tehran that appears to be designed for nuclear-related explosive testing.
Documentary evidence will also be provided to flesh out earlier IAEA suspicions that Iran is researching the construction of an atomic bomb trigger, has carried out computer simulations on building a nuclear device and is experimenting with the neutron technology needed to ignite a nuclear chain reaction.
The report is likely to conclude that Iran is researching how to construct a nuclear weapon but is not actively building one. Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said the report was based on “counterfeit” claims.
As alarming as the findings are, European states are still likely to countenance against military action and call instead for a fifth round of sanctions.
“We gave imposed sanctions that continue to expand,” Alain Juppe (ED: Acute on e please), the French foreign minister, said yesterday. “We can toughen them to put pressure on Iran. We will continue on this path because a military intervention could create a situation that completely destabilises the region.”
Some observers have suggested that the bellicose rhetoric emerging from Israel is recent days is intended to alarm the international community into imposing tougher sanctions that it might otherwise ensue.
But there is also concern in the West that Israel could pursue unilateral military action.
US intelligence agencies have reportedly stepped up their monitoring of Israel to glean clues of a surprise attack after allegedly failing to win sufficiently concrete assurances from Mr Netanyahu that he would confer with Washington before taking military action.
Israeli intelligence has concluded that Iran intends to move the bulk of its nuclear production to a heavily fortified underground facility near the hold city of Qom by the end of the year, increasing the pressure to strike before it does so.
But Israel is thought only to have a window of only a few weeks if it wants to launch military action before the onset of winter, when heavy cloud would hamper aircraft targeting systems, making an attack impracticable. Some military experts predict that if an attack does come it will take place either in the spring, or, more likely, next summer.