Mossad Chief: Iran Will Not Get Nuclear Bomb Before 2009

Iran will be in a position to build a nuclear bomb by 2009, at the earliest, Mossad chief Meir Dagan told members of the Knesset Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense.

The head of Mossad also rejected talk of a "point of no return," saying that "such a concept does not exist."

On the basis of Dagan's assessment, a senior political source in Jerusalem said yesterday there is plenty of time for diplomatic efforts to effectively block Iran's nuclear program.

"The diplomatic effort to block Iran's nuclear program is far from being over. The threat is close enough to draw attention and yet far enough to allow time for action," the source said.

Discussing efforts to thwart Iran's ambition to achieve nuclear capability, a senior source in Israel expressed confidence that all five permanent members of the Security Council will support sanctions against Iran.

The United Nations Security Council will approve a resolution condemning Iran's bid for nuclear arms, the source said, and will create a mechanism to impose sanctions on Tehran.

Israel also expects that the United States and the European Union will go beyond the UN and impose a broader web of economic and diplomatic pressures on Iran, the political source noted.

Many countries have already imposed de facto sanctions on Iran, avoiding high-level diplomatic visits to Tehran or receiving Iranian dignitaries, the senior source said.

In his semi-annual review at the Knesset yesterday, Mossad chief Meir Dagan said that barring any technical problems, Iran should be in a position to develop a nuclear weapon by 2009.

Dagan said that since June Iran has been intensifying efforts to enrich uranium and is trying to have some 3,000 centrifuges working toward that end by 2007. According to intelligence estimates, Iran will cross the technological point of no return when these centrifuges work non-stop for three months.

The Mossad chief said that the centrifuges will be in operation for more than a year by 2008 and will produce about 25 kilograms of enriched uranium. This translates into one or two more years before Iran can make a nuclear weapon.

The Mossad chief also told the committee members that Syrian President Bashar Assad does not intend to continue his policy of passivity in the face of Israeli challenges. The Mossad chief also said he does not give much credence to recent Syrian calls for peace talks.

Dagan said that following the war, there is a change in the strategic thinking in Damascus; it is less wary of Israel.

Syria is willing to take risks vis-a-vis Israel and is even willing to confront Israel. To that end, the Syrians have established a series of orders that will go into effect as soon as Israel initiates a military operation. Part of the Syrian preparations involve the use of rockets and ballistic missiles.

According to the Mossad, Syria's president is more confident and feels secure in his close relation with Iran and Hezbollah.

Assad "is distancing himself from the Western world and is moving closer to the International Court at the Hague," Dagan said, referring to international efforts to try the murderers of Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafik Hariri. The perpetrators are believed to be Syrian officers.

The Mossad chief said that Syria has intensified its efforts to topple the government of Fuad Siniora in Lebanon, and is offering its full backing to Hamas in terrorist activities against Israel.

Dagan also accused Syria of offering safe passage to international jihadists on their way to Iraq. The Syrian armed forces have adopted many of the lessons of the war in Lebanon, and have improved the quality of their anti-tank missiles, which proved effective in the hands of Hezbollah fighters targeting Israeli armor. The Mossad also said Syria has stepped up its ballistic missile production and expanded its bunkers against air attacks.