Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the UN about the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program.
Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the UN about the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program. Photo by AP
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Iran's nuclear facility in Natanz, where the regime is enriching uranium using 3,000 centrifuges. Photo by AP

Iran's nuclear program is at least 10 years from being operational, and in the meantime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is using the Iranian threat for political gain, according to a leading Israeli nuclear expert.

The former head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, Uzi Eilam, told Yedioth Ahronoth daily (Hebrew) in an interview that Israel's threats of attacking Iran are empty - and that he is not sure Iran even wants a nuclear bomb.

"Talk and threats regarding an attack on Iran were harsh words that did not help," Eilam says. "We cannot be at the forefront of this. Practically speaking, the situation is that Iran's nuclear facilities are spread out and buried, tucked under tons of meters of dirt and concrete and steel. It requires much more than a single blow, like the [bombing of] the nuclear reactor in Iraq or Syria," Yedioth Ahronoth cited him as saying. If Israel were to attack Iran, it would be starting a war, he said.

Eilam, a central figure in the development of Israel's nuclear program, headed the nuclear agency for 10 years until 1985. Since then he has worked as a defense consultant and researcher.

"Because I was involved in many technology projects, I learned the hard way that things take time," Eilam told the daily. "Netanyahu and other politicians have instilled a terrible and unnecessary fear in the Israeli public, and I'm pleased that the flames of the talk surrounding the Iranian issue are low at the moment."

While Netanyahu condemned the West's interim deal with Iran as an "historic mistake," Eilam is far more optimistic. The steps Iran has reportedly taken are "most significant," he said. Among these, he highlighted Tehran's reduction by half of its stockpile of uranium fuel enriched to 20 percent.

The nuclear expert believes in diplomatic steps, accompanied by sanctions. "I think you have to give diplomacy a serious opportunity, alongside continuing sanctions, and I'm not sure that Iran even wants a bomb. It could be enough for them to be a nuclear-threshold state in order to become a regional power and scare the neighbors."

Attacking Iran now would only unite the people behind the regime, and encourage the regime to invest more resources in the program, he said. It will achieve exactly the opposite of what Israel wants, Eilam added.

Why is Netanyahu using the Iranian issue for political reasons? Eilam doesn't have a clear answer. "I learned engineering and dealt with research and development. I gave no idea about his psychology, or about ours," he told the paper.

The full interview will be published in Yedioth Ahronoth's weekend edition.