A general who was once in charge of Israel’s nuclear weapons has claimed that Iran is a “very, very, very long way from building a nuclear capability”.
Brigadier-General Uzi Eilam, 75, a war hero and pillar of the defence establishment, believes it will probably take Iran seven years to make nuclear weapons.
The views expressed by the former director-general of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission contradict the assessment of Israel’s defence establishment and put him at odds with political leaders.
Major-General Amos Yadlin, head of military intelligence, recently told the defence committee of the Knesset that Iran will probably be able to build a single nuclear device this year.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, has repeatedly said that Israel will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. Israeli forces have been in training to attack Iranian nuclear installations and some analysts believe airstrikes could be launched this year if international sanctions fail to deter Tehran from pursuing its programme.
Eilam, who is thought to be updated by former colleagues on developments in Iran, calls his country’s official view hysterical. “The intelligence community are spreading frightening voices about Iran,” he said.
He suggested that the “defence establishment is sending out false alarms in order to grab a bigger budget” while some politicians have used Iran to divert attention away from problems at home.
“Those who say that Iran will obtain a bomb within a year’s time, on what basis did they say so?” he asked. “Where is the evidence?”
He has just published Eilam’s Arc, a memoir in which he reveals that he opposed the Israeli attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981.
According to well-placed defence sources, Israel is speeding up preparations for a possible attack on Iran’s nuclear sites. Last week its defence forces released footage that showed training to refuel F-15 jet fighters in mid-air. “This was a warning not to Iran but to the Americans that we’re serious,” said an Israeli defence source.
But Eilam argues “such an attack [against Iran] would be counter-productive”.
“One strike is not practical. In order to delay the Iranian programme for three to four years, one needs an armada of aircraft, which only a super-power can provide. Only America can do it.”