Panetta Concerned Israel Months From Striking Iran | Fox News
Originally Posted by Fox NewsDefense Secretary Leon Panetta is expressing new concerns about Iran's underground nuclear program, this time telling Washington Post columnist David Ignatius he's worried Israel may decide to attack it as early as this spring.
Traveling with the defense secretary in Brussels to cover his meeting with NATO defense ministers, Igantius writes, "Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June.”
This is the first time we've heard such a specific timeframe. Fox News has previously reported concerns from former members of President Obama's national security team that a unilateral strike from Israel could occur sometime in 2012.
Secretary Panetta and the administration have made clear in recent weeks that Iran would cross a "red line" by developing a bomb and that if that occurred all options, including military action, would be on the table.
But Israel is less patient. It appears Israeli officials' red line will occur when Iran develops the capacity to build a bomb. In other words, it appears they think by this spring Iran will have stockpiled enough highly enriched uranium to produce a nuclear warhead.
By that point it will be too late for Israel to act alone. Unlike the United States, Israel does not have the capacity to strike Iran's hardened enrichment facilities 200 feet underground. That, along with Iran's arsenal of missiles that can reach Israel, give reason for Panetta's concerns that Israel is ready to strike first.
There are essentially two methods for striking the underground facility. First is the newly developed Massive Ordnance Penetrator, known simply as the MOP. The largest of its kind, it's a 30,000 pound bunker-busting bomb designed to hit underground targets. Yet in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Panetta acknowledged the MOP has some shortcomings and needs further development to reach areas as deeply buried as Iran's nuclear facility.
Since the MOP is the largest conventional weapon in the U.S. arsenal, the second option would likely involve using smaller-scale nuclear weapons. It's not a card the Obama administration would like to play, risking the legacy of the being the first president since Harry Truman to drop a nuclear bomb.
Another clue about Israel's intent was the sudden cancellation of a long-planned joint U.S.-Israeli military exercise that would have culminated in live fire drills this May. The Israelis apologized for postponing the exercises, and a Pentagon spokesmen said at the time of the cancellation that Israel explained it needed to postpone in order to "assume optimum participation," suggesting forces could be needed elsewhere.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent warnings Tuesday about getting into a new war, telling CNN "if Iraq and Afghanistan has taught us anything in recent history, it is the unpredictability of war and that these things are easier to get into than to get out of."
He added, "This is, I think, one of the toughest foreign policy problems I have ever seen since entering the government 45 years ago."