WASHINGTON – Israel’s military practiced long-range missions and mid-air refueling over the past weekend even as Iran made clear that it will continue with the development of its nuclear program, which Israel is convinced is a cover for making nuclear weapons.

In fact, Israel believes Iran is pursuing negotiations with the U.S. to buy time to finalize its ability to enrich existing low-enriched uranium stockpiles to high-enriched uranium needed to make some seven or eight nuclear weapons.

But there’s now word that time may be short.

“The coming weeks probably represent the last opportunity for Iran and the international community to reach an enforceable deal that will dismantle Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, before Israel concludes that time has run, that Iran has gotten too close to creating its first atomic bombs, and that the time for a military strike has arrived,” according to regional expert Yaakov Lappin, whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post.

Despite assurances from Iran that it is not embarked on a nuclear weapons program, Israeli officials say that Iran has not halted uranium enrichment with an increasing number of centrifuges that extract more enriched uranium that could be used for nuclear weapons.

Israeli officials believe that centrifuges at the underground nuclear facilities in Natanz and Qom continue the enrichment process unabated.

In addition, these sources assert that the heavy water plutonium facility at Arak also continues its production.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that talks between Western powers and Iran on October 15-16 aren’t going to amount to anything and will only buy Iran more time to enrich more uranium for what he says are nuclear weapons.

“A bad deal is worse than no deal,” Netanyahu told the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Iran “will ask for a partial lifting of sanctions for cosmetic concessions that would leave them with the ability to have a nuclear weapons capability,” he said.

He even suggested that Iran was more dangerous than already nuclear-armed North Korea, dedicated to spreading terror in the world.

“You demand enrichment if you want to build nuclear weapons,” he said.

“The speech given by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations in which he warned that Israel would act alone against Iran if it needed to, is an authentic warning and serves a dual purpose,” Lappin said.

In effect, Netahyahu’s speech is said to have renewed the declaration that there is a credible military threat by Iran, even though such warnings had waned significantly since August when the U.S. didn’t carry out a military strike against Iran’s ally, Syria.

“A diminished threat of military force leaves diplomatic efforts with Iran almost no chance of success,” Lappin said. “It leaves Iran with virtually no incentive to stop its nuclear progress, despite the painful economic sanctions it faces.”

He said things just changed, though.

“(Netanyahu) has placed the military threat firmly back on the table, lest Iran forget that even if the U.S. will not act militarily any time soon, Israel most certainly will if it must,” Lappin said.

The second point of Netanyahu’s U.N. speech, Lappin said, was to serve notice to the international community about the urgency with which Israel views Iran’s nuclear development program, and to assure that Israel will act soon, with or without U.S. assistance.

“Should the international community continue to allow Iran to buy more time for its nuclear program, as it has done for more than a decade, after Netanyahu’s warning, it will not be able to respond with surprise when Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear sites,” Lappin said.

Lappin, who is close to high-level Israeli officials, said that Israel doesn’t intend to miss its window to act, since it would violate a central tenet of Israeli defense doctrine of not to depend on any external power such as the U.S. to deal with existential security threats to Israel.

He said that Israel’s clock in gauging Iran’s nuclear progress “ticks faster” than that of the U.S., whose analysts believe that Iran isn’t as far along in developing a nuclear weapon as Israel does.

“Once Israeli intelligence agencies and senior military command levels conclude that the clock has struck one minute to midnight, no amount of pressure from allies will succeed in dissuading it from acting in self-preservation,” Lappin said.

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