British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also expressed concern Thursday that Israel was moving closer to a decision on a potentially destabilizing military strike.
“Of course I worry that there will be a military conflict and that certain countries might seek to take matters into their own hands,” Clegg told the House magazine, a weekly British political journal.
Clegg, whose government recently imposed new sanctions against Iran’s central bank, said Britain was convinced that “ there are very tough things we can do which are not military steps in order to place pressure on Iran.”
At Thursday’s Israeli security conference, in the resort city of Herzliya, Barak and other Israeli officials pointed to recent moves by Iran to begin enriching uranium at a second plant, located in a bunker built into a mountain near the city of Qom. Once that facility is complete, deterring Iran will be far more difficult, they say.
“The dividing line may pass not where the Iranians decide to break out of the nonproliferation treaty and move toward a nuclear device or weapon, but at the place . . . that would make the physical strike impractical,” Barak said.
He rejected criticism that Israeli leaders had failed to consider the full implications of military action. “There is no basis for the claim that this subject. . . was not discussed with appropriate breadth and depth,” he said.
“The assessment of many experts around the world, not only here, is that the result of avoiding action will certainly be a nuclear Iran, and dealing with a nuclear Iran will be more complicated, more dangerous and more costly in lives and money than stopping it,” he said.
Speaking at the same conference, the chief of military intelligence, Gen. Aviv Kochavi, said Iran already has enough fissile material to build four nuclear weapons and could do so within a year if Iranian leaders give the order. U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has adopted a course of gradually gathering the components necessary for nuclear weapons while deferring a decision on whether to build and test a bomb.
Although there have been no indications in Israel that a military strike is imminent, Israeli officials have conveyed a sense of urgency, suggesting that a window of opportunity for a military strike is closing.
Barak, in a meeting with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, urged that diplomatic efforts to halt the Iranian nuclear program “be conducted intensively and urgently” and that tougher sanctions target Iran’s financial system and central bank, as well as its oil exports.
Israeli officials warn that beyond posing an existential threat to Israel, Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon could trigger a regional nuclear arms race in the volatile Middle East and alter Israel’s strategic position in the region.
Warrick reported from Washington. Staff writers Craig Whitlock and Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.