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Viewing cable 05TELAVIV1593, C-NE4-01083: ISRAELI INTENTIONS REGARDING THE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05TELAVIV1593 2005-03-17 14:02 2010-11-28 18:06 SECRET Embassy Tel Aviv
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 TEL AVIV 001593 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/14/2015 
TAGS: PARM PREL MNUC KNNP EU IR IS GOI EXTERNAL
SUBJECT: C-NE4-01083: ISRAELI INTENTIONS REGARDING THE 
IRANIAN NUCLEAR PROGRAM 
 
REF: STATE 26053 
 
Classified By: Ambassador Daniel C. Kurtzer; Reasons: 1.4 (B) and (D). 
 
1. (S) SUMMARY:  Israel sees Iran as the primary threat to 
its security and sees the enrichment cycle as the "point of 
no return" for Tehran's nuclear weapons program.  The GOI 
believes that diplomatic pressure with teeth, such as 
sanctions, can affect Iranian behavior, and is lobbying the 
EU-3 and IAEA on details of a permanent suspension agreement. 
 The Israelis support a unified international front but are 
concerned that the USG may move toward the EU position. 
Despite the GOI's focus on the diplomatic track, public and 
private speculation about possible Israeli air strikes 
continues.  In weighing the military options, the GOI is 
aware of significant differences from its successful strike 
against Iraq's nuclear program in 1981, including an 
uncertain and dispersed target set, the presence of coalition 
forces in Iraq and the Gulf, Iranian capabilities to 
retaliate through Hizballah and terrorism, and the changed 
strategic environment.  END SUMMARY. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
The Iranian Threat, "Point of No Return," and Timelines 
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
 
2. (S) PM Sharon calls Iran "the main threat to Israel" and 
has recently expressed concern that some states are "getting 
used to" the idea of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.  Other 
senior Israeli officials echo this, cautioning that Tehran's 
nuclear weapons program poses what Mossad Chief Meir Dagan 
calls an "existential threat" that alters the strategic 
balance in the region. 
 
3. (C) In a meeting with congressional visitors in December, 
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz described operation of the 
enrichment cycle as the "point of no return" for the Iranian 
program, a view shared by many senior GOI officials.  Mossad 
Chief Dagan went a step further, saying that the Iranian 
program will be unstoppable once it no longer requires 
outside assistance to complete the enrichment process.  At 
the technical level, the director for external affairs at the 
Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) told poloff that the 
critical step would be Iran's operation of a centrifuge 
enrichment cascade. 
 
4. (S) GOI officials have given different timelines for when 
they believe Iran will have full enrichment capability.  In 
February, PM Sharon told the Secretary that he believes there 
is still time remaining to pressure Iran, but that the window 
of opportunity is closing quickly.  DefMin Mofaz cautioned 
that Iran is "less than one year away," while the head of 
research in military intelligence estimated that Iran would 
reach this point by early 2007.  Technical experts at the 
IAEC predicted that Iran would have enrichment capability 
within six months of the end of the suspension agreement.  A 
few GOI officials admitted informally that these estimates 
need to be taken with caution.  The head of the MFA's 
strategic affairs division recalled that GOI assessments from 
1993 predicted that Iran would possess an atomic bomb by 1998 
at the latest. 
 
-------------------------------------------- 
Focus on Diplomacy and Concern with the EU-3 
-------------------------------------------- 
 
5. (S) In the near term, Israel is focused on maintaining 
diplomatic pressure on Iran to cooperate with the IAEA and 
EU-3.  Sharon defines diplomatic pressure to include UNSC 
sanctions, e.g. on Iran's airlines and trade, as noted below. 
 President Katsav has said that Tehran is "very conscious of 
international opinion."  Other MFA and NSC officials point to 
the current suspension and to Iranian reaction to the Mykonos 
case as proof that diplomatic pressure can affect 
decision-making in Tehran. 
 
6. (S) The Israelis often express disappointment with EU-3 
efforts, but see no real alternative at this time.  PM Sharon 
told reporters on March 10 that Iran uses the negotiations to 
"play for time."  In private, Sharon, his Cabinet, and 
military leaders have all complained that the Europeans are 
"too soft."  Similarly, President Katsav has cautioned that 
Iran will "cheat" on any commitments it makes.  MFA staff 
told poloff that they do not believe that the EU-3 effort 
will be successful in obtaining a permanent suspension or 
that the Europeans will support effective sanctions against 
Iran. 
 
7. (C) GOI technical experts said they have been lobbying the 
Europeans and IAEA on several issues.  First, the GOI would 
like a clearer and more detailed listing of all activities 
covered by the suspension, along with timelines for each 
step.  Second, they want more robust verification measures 
and greater focus on Iran's denial of access to IAEA 
inspectors.  Third, the Israelis insist that any final 
agreement must be endorsed by the UNSC to ensure that 
noncompliance will be dealt with at an appropriate level. 
Fourth, Israel is pushing the EU-3 to define benchmarks that 
would signal a failure of the process, and to identify the 
concrete consequences of such failure. 
 
8. (C) According to the IAEC, the GOI has urged the Europeans 
to examine bilateral or EU sanctions with small, but 
noticeable, economic impacts.  After telling the press on 
March 10 that "it would probably not be advisable to impose 
an oil embargo on Iran," PM Sharon advocated trade and flight 
restrictions.  Lower-level GOI officials said these steps 
could include restrictions on Iranians studying in Europe, 
limitations on travel by Iranian scientific personnel, and 
suspension of landing privileges for Iranian airlines within 
the EU.  The goal, according to the deputy NSA for foreign 
affairs, is unified pressure from the EU, Russia, and U.S. 
for a "complete, full, verifiable cessation of the fuel cycle 
program."  In the short term, this means a full suspension of 
all enrichment, reprocessing, heavy-water-reactor 
construction, and related R&D activities. 
 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
Israeli Preference for USG and UNSC Involvement 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
 
9. (C) In light of their uneasiness with EU-3 efforts, the 
Israelis are hoping for robust U.S. involvement and action by 
the UNSC.  PM Sharon has urged the EU-3 to continue its 
efforts, but also stressed the importance of preparing to 
take Iran to the UNSC.  In a meeting with a CoDel on December 
12, DefMin Mofaz pushed for the U.S. to take the lead with 
the Europeans and pursue all diplomatic solutions, including 
sanctions.  President Katsav asked the Secretary not to "wait 
for the Europeans." 
 
10. (C) This desire for U.S. activity is amplified by the 
extremely limited options open to Israel on the diplomatic 
front.  The IAEC's director for non-proliferation admitted 
that the GOI sees "little we can do" to increase pressure on 
Iran as long as Tehran abides by the suspension agreement. 
The MFA's office director for the Gulf states said that 
Israel would maintain its low-profile diplomatic activities, 
such as supplying IAEA members with intelligence material 
related to the Iranian program.  She said the MFA believes 
that any overt Israeli pressure would backfire, leading to a 
surge of Arab support for Iran and focusing attention on 
Israel's own nuclear activities. 
 
11. (C) Following the recent announcements on Iran by the 
President and the Secretary, several Israeli officials asked 
if the USG is shifting its policy on Iran.  The deputy NSA 
for foreign affairs acknowledged that the U.S. move is 
probably necessary to build international consensus for 
taking Iran to the UNSC.  At the same time, he expressed 
concern that the USG would be influenced by what he called 
the EU's habit of granting concessions to Iran prior to full 
compliance.  Mid-level staffers at the NSC and IAEC were also 
disquieted by U.S. press reports claiming that the USG is 
re-examining its position on Hizballah. 
 
------------------------------------------ 
The Military Option: Bushehr is not Osirak 
------------------------------------------ 
 
12. (S) Despite frustrations with diplomatic efforts, Israeli 
officials are understandably reluctant to discuss possible 
military options.  In public, PM Sharon has stressed the 
importance of the "political and economic" track.  During a 
recent discussion with a visiting USG official, IDF Deputy 
Chief of Staff (and CoS-designate) Major General Dani Haloutz 
similarly said "we don't want to go there."  In February, 
President Katsav told the Secretary that "the military option 
is not necessary -- bring the issue to the Security Council." 
 
13. (S) Public speculation about possible military strikes 
usually focuses on the differences from the Israeli Air 
Force's attack on Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981.  In private, 
GOI officials have acknowledged that several factors would 
make any attack against Iran a much more difficult mission. 
A senior military intelligence official told the Embassy that 
the GOI does not know where all of the targets are located 
and said that any attack would only delay, not end, the 
Iranian program.  The MFA's office director for the Gulf 
states noted that potential target sites are well dispersed 
throughout the country, with several located in built-up 
civilian areas.  The IAEC stressed the importance of Russian 
assistance in restraining Iran's nuclear ambitions and said 
that any attack on Bushehr would likely result in Russian 
casualties and endanger Moscow's cooperation. 
 
14. (C) MFA contacts said that the distance to the targets 
and the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq and the Gulf raise 
additional complications.  An Israeli assault would 
necessitate prior coordination with coalition forces in Iraq, 
they maintained, leaving the USG open to retaliation 
throughout the Islamic world, especially in Iraq.  MFA and 
NSC officials acknowledged that any attack would also elicit 
a strong response from Arab states and the Palestinians, 
effectively freezing the peace process. 
 
15. (C) The Israelis realize that Iran would use any military 
strike as an excuse to cease cooperation with the EU-3 and 
the IAEA.  In addition, the GOI is acutely aware of Iran's 
ability to retaliate, both militarily and through attacks by 
its regional surrogates.  PM Sharon has claimed that 
Hizballah has 11,000 rockets (and possibly UAVs) capable of 
reaching Israel from launching sites in Lebanon.  The MFA's 
office director for the Gulf states said that she believed 
that Iran would retaliate by inciting terrorist groups in 
Israel and the Occupied Territories. 
 
16. (C) Current USG, EU-3, and IAEA focus on Iran also 
creates a situation that differs from 1981, when the Israelis 
felt that the international community was ignoring the Iraqi 
threat.  Israelis hope that the others will solve the Iranian 
problem for them, or as Vice PM Shimon Peres has said, "I do 
not think that the matter of Iran needs to be turned into an 
Israeli problem -- it is a matter of concern for the whole 
world." 
 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
Comment: Diplomatic Solution Preferred, but ... 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
 
17. (S) COMMENT: The Israelis are focusing on diplomatic 
channels in the IAEA and EU-3, and appear to have very real 
concerns about the feasibility of military strikes against 
the Iranian nuclear program.  Nevertheless, the GOI has shown 
time and again that it will act militarily if it believes 
that its security is threatened, and the IDF is most 
certainly keeping contingency plans up to date.  The Israeli 
press reported that in February PM Sharon's Security Cabinet 
had given "initial authorization" for an attack on Iran.  The 
press reports cited an unnamed "Israeli security source," who 
claimed that the USG would "authorize" an Israeli attack. 
Post notes that it may not be possible to detect preparations 
for any military strike.  Air defense operations would pose 
nearly perfect cover for civil defense and Air Force 
activities preceding any attack.  Due to both the extreme 
sensitivity of the issue and the GOI's near inability to 
prevent leaks, any attack order would be closely held, 
probably even from many members of PM Sharon's Cabinet. 
 
18. (C) COMMENT CONTINUED: The GOI knows that we share its 
interest in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. 
Nevertheless, we should expect continued Israeli lobbying at 
the highest levels urging the USG to ensure that the EU-3 
effort is on track and backed by a solid international front. 
 We will also hear Israeli concerns that the U.S. position 
may move toward the EU stance.  At the same time, we should 
recognize that Israeli intelligence briefings will 
understandably focus on worst-case scenarios and may not 
match current USG assessments. 
 
********************************************* ******************** 
Visit Embassy Tel Aviv's Classified Website: 
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/telaviv 
 
You can also access this site through the State Department's 
Classified SIPRNET website. 
********************************************* ******************** 
KURTZER