Leon Panetta Concerned That Israel Is Months From Striking Iran
By Justin Fishel
Defense 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, Ignatius 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 and that Central Command has been planning for the possibility the U.S. could be drawn in.
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 would be crossed when Iran has the material to build a bomb. In other words, it appears they believe that 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, add to Panetta's concerns that Israel is preparing to strike as early as this spring.
There are essentially two obvious methods for striking the underground facility that could be used. The first involves the Pentagon’s 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 facilities.