A classified cable sent by America’s top diplomat in Tel Aviv warns that Israeli officials believe Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts are nearing the “point of no return” on the country’s alleged path toward a nuclear weapon.
The latest indication that Israeli air strikes are imminent? Not exactly. This cable, part of the once classified library made available by WikiLeaks, captures the state of play back in 2005.
The document contains numerous passages that make the current debate in Washington and Israel sound like an echo of years worth of grim conversations about Iran.
Despite efforts to keep Israel focused on sanctions and diplomatic pressure, the cable warns that “public and private speculation about possible Israeli air strikes continues.”
The Israeli prime minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, calls Iran “the main threat to Israel” in meetings with U.S. officials, while the head of Israel’s intelligence service describes the prospect of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons an “existential threat.”
It’s not that nothing has changed. U.S. and Israeli officials agree that Iran has moved closer to nuclear weapons capability over the past seven years, adding facilities and enriching uranium at levels that are approaching weapons grade. (U.S. spy agencies believe that Iran suspended efforts to build an actual warhead in 2003, and see no evidence that such work has resumed.)
The options confronting Israel and Washington didn’t look any better in 2005 than they do now. “Diplomatic pressure with teeth” might work, the cable says, but Israel is convinced “that the window of opportunity is closing quickly.”
But even in 2005 the fretting about Iran was starting to have a familiar ring. The cable notes that Israeli “assessments from 1993 predicted that Iran would possess an atomic bomb by 1998 at the latest.”