International Atomic Energy Agency chairman Mohamed ElBaradei affirmed Israel’s assessment that Iran is only a few months away from creating a nuclear weapon, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Iran decided to resume uranium processing at Isfahan in August 2004, in clear defiance of its promise to the EU-3 – France, Germany and Britain – that uranium processing would be stopped while negotiations were under way.

ElBaradei today stated the danger.

“If Tehran indeed resumes its uranium enrichment in other plants, as threatened, it will take only several months to produce a bomb,” he said.

Iran already has threatened to open its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz as soon as Isfahan can produce enough high-grade uranium hexafluoride gas.

ElBaradei also sent a warning, clearly aimed at Israel, against military action.

“On the other hand,” he cautioned, “any attempt to resolve the crisis by non-diplomatic means will open a Pandora’s box.”

Israel most likely would need U.S. clearance to launch a military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities, especially if air clearance over Iraq were required.

With U.S. troops in the area, an Iran counter-attack, even with conventionally armed Shahab-3 missiles, could cause large numbers of U.S. military casualties.

Last week, Russia agreed to sell Iran $1 billion worth of its TOR-M1 air defense missile system, which could be deployed to protect Iranian nuclear sites, of which there are dozens, if not hundreds.

A military strike against Iran would be much more complicated that Israel’s 1981 strike that took out Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor. At that time, Iraq had one nuclear facility; today, Iran has at least a half-dozen critical nuclear facilities, if not more, that would need to be targeted.

U.S. efforts to get the IAEA to bring Iran before the U.N. Security Council were stalled during the IAEA meeting at the end of November.

Russia has proposed that Iran could continue to process and enrich uranium but at facilities located in Russia, under Russian control and supervision. The Bush administration has agreed to allow additional time to see if Iran will accept the Russian proposal and resume negotiations.

In the past few days, Iran has continued to insist upon its right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to pursue the “full fuel cycle” – code words for continuing uranium processing at Isfahan and beginning uranium enrichment at Natanz as soon as it chooses to do so.

The announcement by ElBaradei is the first time an IAEA official has agreed with Israel’s assertion that Iran is only months away from developing an atomic bomb.

Previous assessments leaked from U.S. intelligence sources had indicated Iran might need as many as 10 years to develop a deliverable atomic weapon.

The problem for Israel is that even one relatively low-yield, gun-type atomic bomb detonated over Tel Aviv would have disastrous consequences, with the risk of virtually destroying Israel as a viable nation-state.

Jerome R. Corsi, author of “Atomic Iran,” said he was extremely pessimistic after hearing El Baradei’s announcement.

“El Baradei has been very reserved,” Corsi noted. “He has been very supportive of pursuing diplomatic means to control Iran. If ElBaradei is willing to state publicly that Iran’s development of an atomic bomb is imminent, the situation is extremely serious.”

Corsi noted Israeli officials have been making statements indicating March 2006 is the deadline for the Iranian nuclear crisis to be resolved.

“If no progress is made diplomatically by March 2006, the likelihood that Israel will launch a nuclear strike regardless of the consequences increases dramatically,” Corsi said.

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