Iran averted a showdown over its nuclear program by putting a third of its medium-enriched uranium to civilian use, but the respite may be short-lived, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph while on a visit to London, Barak said it was “probable” that a tipping point in Israel’s standoff with Iran over its nuclear program would have been reached before the U.S. presidential election next month had Iran not diverted the fuel in August.
The decision put back any immediate plans Iran had for acquiring a nuclear bomb, but Barak told the British newspaper the “moment of truth” had only been delayed by “eight to 10 months.”
Israel has engaged in much sabre-rattling over Iran’s nuclear program in recent months, with several politicians proposing a preemptive military strike to avoid any possibility of Tehran acquiring an atomic weapon.
Barak explained that Tehran had amassed 189 kilograms (417 pounds) of 20-percent pure uranium -- a key step in the development of weapons-grade material -- but that 38 percent of this was converted into fuel rods for a civilian research reactor.
In comments published on the Telegraph’s website, Barak argued there were three possible reasons for this.
“One is the public discourse about a possible Israeli or American operation deterred them from trying to come closer,” he reasoned.
“It could probably be a diplomatic gambit that they have launched in order to avoid this issue culminating before the American election, just to gain some time.”
“It could be a way of telling the International Atomic Energy Agency ‘oh we comply with our commitments’,” he added, according to AFP.
Several rounds of negotiations between world powers and Tehran have failed to produce much progress on increasing the transparency of Tehran’s nuclear program, which the West suspects is a front for developing nuclear weapons.
Tehran denies the charge and insists it has a right to enrich uranium -- despite four rounds of U.N. sanctions over its refusal to cooperate with nuclear agency inspectors.
Analysts say Iran already has enough low-enriched uranium for several nuclear bombs if it were refined to a high degree, but may still be a few years away from being able to assemble a missile if it decided to go down that path.
Western diplomats say Iran appears to have nearly finished installing centrifuges at an underground nuclear plant, potentially boosting its capacity to make weapons-grade uranium if it chose to do so.
Iran and the United States have recently both denied reaching a deal for one-on-one nuclear talks, as The New York Times had reported -- even though the White House said it was open to such dialogue.
Barak said he doubted that sanctions and diplomacy would resolve the crisis and predicted Israel would probably face a decision over whether to launch strikes in 2013.
He insisted that Israel had the right to act alone and that a preemptive strike would be less risky than waiting until Iran had acquired a nuclear weapon.