Israeli security chiefs have become especially worried recently, not only over Iran’s moves to enrich uranium but also over Tehran’s rapidly growing capabilities to launch a military nuclear attack.
Even amid speculation about a US push to forge a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Israel’s top commander sounded an ominous warning. Speaking on May 23 at the annual Herzliya Conference, Lt. Gen. Herzl Halevi warned of negative developments that could lead to Israel taking action against Iran.
“Iran has made more progress in uranium enrichment than ever before. We are also closely examining other aspects of the [Iranians’] path to nuclear capability,” said Halevi. “Without going into details, there are possible negative developments on the horizon that could prompt action.”
Halevi is not prone to exaggeration. His unusual reference to “action” and “negative developments” sent Israel’s stock market and currency exchange rate tumbling.
The latest dramatic news on the Iranian threat emerged two months ago, on March 23, when Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley told Congress that Iran could make enough fissile material for four or five nuclear bombs in “less than two weeks,” an assessment with which Israeli intelligence is well acquainted. What stunned Israel’s defence establishment was Milley’s claim that once Iran produces sufficient military-grade uranium, it could put together a nuclear weapon within “several more months.”
This timetable is dramatically different from Israel’s assessment that Iran is still far from having the technology to produce a warhead the size of a basketball and mount it on a missile with a range of hundreds or thousands of kilometres. Israeli and American experts had until recently spoken in terms of Iran being two years away from such capability. Some in Israel are describing Milley’s shocking timetable as a potential intelligence failure of Pearl Harbor proportions.
“Either Gen. Milley is wrong and the Americans fell short with their assessment or we just fell asleep on our watch,” a former senior Israeli intelligence source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity.
Immediately after Milley’s congressional testimony, a hotline was set up with his Israeli counterpart Halevi. The US and Israeli intelligence establishments share high-level intelligence, and the Israelis sought to understand what Milley had based his comments on.
At the same time, Israeli intelligence is working to determine the precise stage of Iran’s nuclear weapons development. Israel is now worried about Iran advancing on its “weapons group,” meaning the development of the special detonation process required to occur to achieve a nuclear explosion. Halevi’s remarks this week about “negative developments” appear to indicate that Israel cross-checked its information with the American data.