Iran may have atomic weapon by year’s end, says Israeli diplomat

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

Iran is believed to be capable of producing its first nuclear weapon by the end of 2009, according to Orli Gil, the recently named Israeli Midwest Consul General.

Gil stressed Israel’s deep concern over attempts by Iran to develop nuclear weapons, and its regime whose president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly said Israel must be “wiped off the map.”

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“Iran already has half of what they need to develop an atomic weapon,” Gil said during a wide-ranging talk she gave to local Jewish leaders convened last week by the Jewish Community Relations Council, held in the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building.

“Iran also has improved missile technology; the Shibab missile can reach much farther than previous missiles, and Iran has also launched a satellite into space. Iran has also hidden missiles in many locations, and we consider Iran to be an existential threat to Israel,” she said.

Gil added that Iran “continues to be a major exporter of terrorism in the Middle East, around the world. The Iran regime also supports Hamas and Hezbollah and exports terrorism to other factions throughout the region.” She said that the government in Iran “has been under sanctions for the past few years, and though they are working, much more needs to be done by the international community. Iran has 30 percent inflation and is suffering shortages of fuel, refined oil and basic commodities.”

Based in Chicago, the Israeli Consulate of the Midwest serves an 11-state region, including Missouri, and seeks to “strengthen the bonds between Israel and America,” based on shared “democratic values and ideals.” Gil, a veteran Israeli diplomat, has been a member of Israel’s Foreign Service since 1986, and has had a number of major postings, including Deputy Chief of Mission of Israel’s Embassy in Oslo, Norway, and in the Palestinian Affairs Division of the Foreign Ministry.

Gil expressed concern that some Western democratic nations continue to trade with Iran, “including selling dual use materials, things which might look innocent, but which could be used to enrich uranium. Often these deliveries of such materials are through third countries, like Indonesia.”

Gil warned that “the Western world itself would be threatened if Iran obtains nuclear weapons. “If Iran has nuclear weapons, it could control the vital Straits of Hormuz, and could stop the oil supply to the West. If Iran has its hand on the faucet of oil, it could change the entire world. If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, (other Arab states in the region) would want such weapons also and we would have a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It is a threat to the entire region, but of course it is the biggest threat to Israel.”

Gil called for substantially increased sanctions and other pressures on the regime in Iran to make sure that it does not develop nuclear weapons. She would not speculate on any military options Israel might take in response to the threat, and emphasized that Israel seeks a diplomatic solution based on stronger sanctions and greater concerted efforts by Europe and the United States to prevent Iran from going nuclear.

Concerning the prospects for progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Gil praised the appointment of George Mitchell as the special envoy to the Middle East by President Barack Obama. She said she expects the new Israeli government to continue participation in the peace process no matter who emerged as the ruling coalition in the aftermath of Israel’s elections for a new prime minister and Knesset.

She added that a unity government is possible and desirable “if we want a stable government that can take difficult decisions.”