Steinitz: Iran Will Have US-Range Missile In 2-3 Years


israeli-finance-minister-yuval-steinitzIsrael believes that within two to three years Iran will have intercontinental missiles able to hit the United States, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz told CNBC on Wednesday, in remarks aimed at raising global awareness of the threat the Israelis believe a nuclear Iran would pose to the world.

Analysts now estimate the longest range of an Iranian missile to be about 2,400 km (1,500 miles), capable of reaching Tehran’s arch-enemy Israel as well as Europe.

But Israel has also been keen to persuade any allies who do not share their view of the risk posed by Iran that an Islamic Republic with atom bombs would also threaten the West.

Steinitz’s assessment was in line with an unclassified U.S. Defense Department report in 2010 that estimated Iran may be able to build a U.S.-range missile by 2015.

“They (the Iranians) are working now and investing a lot of billions of dollars in order to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles,” said Steinitz, a former chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

“And we estimate that in two to three years they will have the first intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach the east coast of America. So their aim is to put a direct nuclear ballistic threat … to Europe and to the United States of America,” he said in English.

Israeli intelligence services keep a close eye on Iran, whose nuclear program Israelis see as a mortal threat. Israel is also widely believed to have been behind a series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. Israel also has spy satellites.

Steinitz’s remarks coincided with stepped up U.S. efforts to persuade Israeli leaders that there is still time for diplomacy to keep Tehran from building a nuclear weapon and growing concerns Israel might opt to strike Iran pre-emptively.

Three weeks ago, Vice Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe (Bogey) Ya’alon said Iran had been working on developing a missile capable of striking the U.S. at a military base rocked by an explosion that killed 17 Iranian troops in November.

Ya’alon said the base was a research and development facility where Iran was preparing to produce or develop a missile with a range of 10,000 km (6,000 miles).

Former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Asheknazi also spoke to CNBC about the Iranian threat. When asked whether he thought Iran’s leaders were rational, he replied, “I really don’t know, but I do know that we cannot trust a regime that regularly calls for the elimination and destruction of Israel. I think we have to take it seriously.”

Ashkenazi said a nuclear Iran will change the landscape in the Middle East and all over the world, and he was concerned that this would set off a nuclear arms race in the region, CNBC reported.

Meanwhile, Russia on Wednesday said it is not ruling out the possibility that the U.S. would use its airbase in Kyrgyzstan for a potential attack on Iran, AFP reported.

“It cannot be excluded that this site could be used in a potential conflict with Iran,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich was quoted by AFP as telling reporters. “We hope that such an apocalyptic scenario will not be realized.”

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev said in December that it was “very dangerous” for his state to accommodate the U.S. Manas military airbase and has threatened the U.S. with eviction when their current lease expires, in 2014.

The U.S. airbase, located at the airport in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, currently serves as a coalition hub for operations in Afghanistan.

Lukashevich told reporters that using the base to attack Iran would require “changes or rather violations” to the lease agreement between Washington and Bishkek, AFP reported.

“The statements from Washington, which do not rule out a military solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis, have caused serious worries in the Central Asian region,” he was quoted as saying. “The worries are shared not just by Kyrgyzstan — where a debate has erupted about the risk of a retaliatory strike from Iran — but other Central Asian countries.”

Russia, meanwhile, also warned Israel that attacking Iran would have severe consequences, with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennyadi Gatilov telling the ITAR-Tass news agency on Wednesday that such a strike “would be a catastrophe not only for the region but for the whole system of international relations.”

Under international pressure to show restraint, Israel, which has warned repeatedly that it may strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, pointedly urged major world powers to mind their own business, saying it alone would decide what to do to protect the Jewish state’s security.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman rebuffed international pressure, telling Israel’s Channel 2 news, “With all due respect I have for the United States and Russia, it’s none of their business. The security of Israel and its residents, Israel’s future, is the responsibility of Israel’s government.”

“We will make the best decision for the Israeli interest,” Lieberman said.

The foreign minister’s comments came as Moscow said on Wednesday that the world should not draw “hasty conclusions” over Iran’s most recent rebuff of U.N. attempts to investigate allegations the Islamic Republic hid secret work on atomic arms, but the U.S. and its allies accused Tehran of nuclear defiance.

The IAEA’s acknowledgment of renewed failure came early Wednesday at the conclusion of the second trip in less then a month aimed at investigating suspicions of covert Iranian nuclear weapons work.

The IAEA team had hoped to speak with key Iranian scientists suspected of working on the alleged weapons program, break down opposition to their plans to inspect documents related to nuclear work and secure commitments from Iranian authorities to allow future visits.

But mission head Herman Nackaerts acknowledged his team “could not find a way forward” in negotiations with Iranian officials. A separate IAEA communique clearly – if indirectly – blamed Tehran for the lack of progress.

“We engaged in a constructive spirit, but no agreement was reached,” it quoted IAEA chief Yukiya Amano as saying.

Iran continued sounding a hard line, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei telling the nation’s nuclear scientists to forge ahead with the atomic program.

“Sanctions and political pressures won’t have any effect. When a nation decides to resist, when it believes in its domestic power and its own capability, nothing can stop it,” Khamenei told the scientists, adding, “I pray for you.”

As with the previous visit that ended in early February, Iran did not grant requests by the IAEA mission to visit Parchin – a military site thought to be used for explosives testing related to nuclear detonations, the statement said

The statement also said that no agreement was reached on how to begin “clarification of unresolved issues in connection with Iran’s nuclear program, particularly those relating to possible military dimensions.”

{Israel Hayom/ Newscenter}