May 8 1:42 PM

Former Israeli nuclear chief says Netanyahu exaggerates Iran ‘threat’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting on April 6, 2014.
Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images

"The Iranian nuclear program will only be operational in another 10 years. Even so, I am not sure that Iran wants the bomb."

Thus the assessment of Iran’s nuclear program by Uzi Eilam, former head of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, in an exclusive interview with the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot.

"Netanyahu is using the Iranian threat to achieve a variety of political objectives," Eilam told the paper. "These declarations are unnecessarily scaring Israel's citizens, given Israel is not party to the negotiations to determine whether Iran will or will not dismantle its nuclear program."

He also questioned his government’s routine claim that Iran is rushing headlong toward an atomic weapon: “I'm not sure that Iran even wants a bomb. It could be enough for them to be a nuclear-threshold state in order to become a regional power and scare the neighbors.” (A “threshold” state is one – like, say, Japan or Argentina – believed to have the technical wherewithal to assemble a bomb in a matter of months should it choose to do so.)

It’s not exactly the first time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claims about an Iranian nuclear threat have been pooh-poohed from within Israel’s strategic establishment – in 2012, the Israeli military’s chief of staff followed the recently retired heads of Israel’s main security agencies in bluntly challenging the prime minister’s claims on Iran’s nuclear progress and goals. 

But the timing of the Yediot Ahronot interview with former head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission could be significant. As the U.S. and its allies move into the home stretch of negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran that will inevitably fall short of Israeli demands,Netanyahu’s opposition to a nuclear compromise is expected to escalate.

But Eilam told the Israeli paper that the diplomatic efforts long criticized by Netanyahu had, in fact, produced important results such as halving Iran’s stockpile of medium-enriched uranium.

While Netanyahu has railed against the results of negotiations with Iran thus far, a number of top Israeli security officials have expressed more satisfaction with the results of the diplomatic process. Eilam’s comments are likely to further annoy Netanyahu by calling him out as a scaremonger just when he’s looking to raise the alarm about the results of diplomacy with Iran. 

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Any views expressed on The Scrutineer are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.

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