By ANNA AHRONHEIM,TOVAH LAZAROFF
Iran is capable of producing a nuclear weapon within two years, if it steps up work on its nuclear program and violates the 2015 deal with the West, according to a recent Israeli intelligence assessment.
The assessment was released as the controversial US-led summit against Iran opened in Warsaw, where Israel is expected to pressure the European Union against trying to prop up the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action following the American withdrawal last May.
In the Polish capital, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke openly about the possibility of war with Iran, and the possibility of a new alliance of Arab states with Israel, in the event of such hostilities.
“I am going to a meeting with 60 foreign ministers and envoys of countries from around the world against Iran,” Netanyahu said next to an outdoor skating rink in a short video clip his staff filmed for his Facebook page.
“What is important about this meeting – and this meeting is not in secret, because there are many of those – is that this is an open meeting with representatives of leading Arab countries, that are sitting down together with Israel in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran,” he said.
Israel has worked not just to block Iran’s accelerated nuclear activity, but has also attempted to stem its increased military activity along the North.
Before he boarded a plane to Warsaw Tuesday night, Netanyahu confirmed that Israel attacked Iranian targets in Syria on Monday. Prior to heading to the ministerial meeting, he said Israel is working to oust Iran from Syria.
“What we are doing is pushing and driving Iran from Syria. We are committed to doing this,” he said.
Israel considers Iran’s nuclear program as the nation’s No. 1 concern, and, according to the assessment, if the Islamic Republic does decide to renege on the agreement, it would take it one year to produce enough fissionable material to make a nuclear bomb and then another year to actually make the weapon device.
According to the assessment, Iran is contemplating how to deal with American sanctions in the hope that President Donald Trump will not be reelected in 2020 and a new and more pragmatic president would be elected, or to signal to the West that if the current status quo remains, it, too, will leave the agreement and return to enriching uranium.
Under the JCPOA, Tehran is prohibited from transferring any weapons to third countries, but Iran, which possesses more than 1,000 short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, is suspected of continuing to smuggle weapons to countries and non-state actors such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Nevertheless, it is believed that Iran is continuing to develop the capabilities to produce a nuclear weapons arsenal as well as produce ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, despite new US sanctions placed on Iran meant to pressure Tehran over its military activity in the Middle East.
Iran has always denied seeking nuclear weapons, and agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions as part of the JCPOA signed in 2015 between Iran and the US, Russia, China, the UK, France and Germany.
While US sanctions have largely succeeded in convincing Western businesses to cut ties with Iran, countries such as France, Germany and Britain have begun nondollar trade with Iran to avert US sanctions, to keep the deal with Iran alive.
Though Iran’s economy has improved since the signing of the deal, the average Iranian has not felt it, with high unemployment and growing inflation due to the sanctions, with a rise in the price of bananas over the past year by 165%, 50% in meat prices, 103% in tomato prices, and 15% for housing.
While the spark for the protests has been the economy, protesters have also taken to the street denouncing the Islamic Republic’s role in conflict zones such as Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Gaza, burning pictures of the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who is in charge of Iran’s policy in those countries.
US envoy Jason Greenblatt, who is in Warsaw, tweeted in advance of the conference that “Iran is the primary threat to the future of regional peace/security.”
Netanyahu is also set to meet with US Vice President Mike Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the sidelines of the conference to discuss Iran.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has dismissed the conference as a “desperate anti-Iran circus.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned Europe to distance itself from the US.
“Today, the Iranian people see some European countries as cunning and untrustworthy along with the criminal America. The government of the Islamic Republic must carefully preserve its boundaries with them,” he wrote. “Iran must not retreat a single step from national and revolutionary values.”
US President Donald Trump’s attorney and former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, called for Iranian regime change on Wednesday ahead of a US-backed Middle East summit in Warsaw.
“Everyone knows that Iran is the No. 1 sponsor of terrorism in the world. There isn’t a single government there that disagrees with that,” he said.
“The reality is, Iran should be isolated until Iran changes. If they can do what our government, American government, other governments, believe and make policy change within, I would be satisfied with that, although skeptical. If it results in regime change, I think that would be a cleaner solution,” Giuliani said.
He spoke ahead of a rally to show support for the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a bloc of opposition groups in exile that seeks to end Shi’ite clerical rule in Iran.
Protesters banged drums, chanted and waved flags and placards outside the summit venue at the National Stadium. They were protesting the current regime and its human rights violations.
One Iranian protester, Mahmoud Masoudi of Germany, said they came to Warsaw to support NCRI head Maryam Rajavi.
She is “our leader and the only alternative to the dictatorship in Iran,” he said. “This is the basic reason that all of us are here today. And we think it is the time to support the NCRI… which includes the most democratic groups in Iran against the Khamenei regime, against dictatorship in Iran, the religious dictatorship.”
Reuters contributed to this report.