MPs warned over Iran’s nuclear threat

The likelihood of an Israeli pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities is impossible to predict, MPs were told this week.

In the latest session of the Commons’ Foreign Affairs Select Committee gathering evidence on Iran, Bicom director Alan Johnson and Oren Kessler, director of the Centre for the New Middle East at the Henry Jackson Society think-tank, discussed details of the interim deal world powers struck with Iran last November.

Mr Kessler said “normalisation” with Tehran was “not a realistic option” even though Britain and the United States may now feel able to speak to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Both men said it was still impossible to predict whether Israel would launch a pre-emptive strike, adding that the dilemma was widely accepted as the toughest decision for Israeli leaders since the inception of the state.

Asked how close Iran might be to gaining “breakout capacity” to create a nuclear weapon, Mr Kessler suggested: “We are talking three months perhaps.” He said it might take another year for Tehran to then manufacture a delivery system.

But Prof Johnson put his estimate at six months, adding: “The challenge is to push that as far back as possible. There is a long, long way to go before you can say the international community is actually pushing Iran back from the threshold”.

He also warned of the prospect of a renewed nuclear arms race if Iran produced a weapon, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey likely to pursue similar capabilities.

The professor said there was potential for good cultural and civil society links between Britain and Iran, and that they could be forged to improve relations.

He said that slowly rebuilding diplomatic relations was sensible, but warned that many issues remained “untested”.

Last updated: 4:06pm, February 13 2014