Israel to Iran: `Window’ Shrinking

Photograph by Tsafrir Abayov/AP Photo

A security officer stands guard as U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, second right, and Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak deliver statements during a visit to an Iron Dome rocket defense shield battery, seen back left, in the coastal city of Ashkelon, southern Israel, on Aug. 1, 2012.

There is a “window” in which Israel might be able to effectively strike the nuclear program that Iran is developing, Israel’s ambassador to the United States said today, and that window is “small and getting smaller.”

The development of bomb-grade nuclear material in Iran has not been slowed by international sanctions against the nation, which have “taken a bite” out of Iran’s economy but not its nuclear ambitions, Ambassador Michael Oren said.

“We’ve come to a very critical juncture where important decisions do have to be made,” Oren said at a Bloomberg Government Breakfast in Washington, meeting and taking questions from several senior editors and reporters.

With enough enriched material in hand to fuel five nuclear devices, and as many as 11,000 centrifuges at work enriching more material, Oren said, Iran also is moving these facilities underground, where it ultimately will be protected from the range of weaponry Israel possesses.

“Our window is small and getting smaller,” he said. Asked how much time Israel has before that window closes and Israel can effectively intervene, Oren would say only: “It’s not in the distant future.”

The possibility that any Israeli intervention might only slow Iran’s development of nuclear weaponry by a few years is no argument against it, he noted — as reported by Tony Capaccio and Nicole Gaouette for Bloomberg News.

All this is part of the “worst of times” in the history of a nation, Israel, also enjoying its “best of times,” said the ambassador — citing new relations with other world powers, including a recent visit by the Russian president and growing ties with India and China, with trade between Israel and China growing by 30 percent a year. Israel, he said, is “exporting caviar to Russia, exporting wine to France.”

Yet Iran is not the only problem: The tumult in Syria has left uncertain the fate of a regime that is “ruthless and reckless.” Syria’s arsenal of unconventional weapons is the biggest concern, he said. “`That clock is ticking as we’re sitting here,” he said, adding that the threat posed by Syria “could” have to be dealt with before that of Iran.

Israel has long asserted its right to self-defense and continues to do so — “This is not just our right,” Oren said, “It is our duty.”

Iran already is sponsoring terrorist attacks around the globe, said Oren, citing an alleged plot against Saudi diplomats in Washington that also included him as a target. “We’ve dodged the bullet” around the world, he said. “They’re doing all this without nuclear weapons. Imagine what they’d do with nuclear weapons.”

The United States has its own reasons for concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the ambassador said. But the U.S. is big and distant, he said, Israel small and close — “clearly, they have more time than we have.”

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