Iran’s new president Hasan Rouhani is “charming, he is cunning, and he will smile all the way to the bomb,” Minister for International, Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz said in an interview with The Washington Post, published on Thursday. Israel believes the United States and others in the West are being misled by the moderate cleric’s recent election to the presidency. Steinitz told the Post that rather than negotiating with Tehran, the U.S. and the international community should tighten the economic sanctions against Iran’s already stagnating economy.
The Israeli intelligence minister told The Washington Post that Tehran should hear from the U.S. and the international community that it has only two choices: voluntarily shutter its uranium enrichment program or “see it destroyed with brute force,” which he envisioned as “a few hours of airstrikes, no more.”
Steinitz shrugged at the possible consequences of such a strike and said he could envision Iran firing “several hundred missiles” at Israel in retaliation, producing “very limited damage because we can intercept many of them,” he told the Post.
Iran this week denied an exiled opposition group’s allegation that it was secretly building a new underground nuclear facility. The dissident National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) claims that it had obtained “reliable” information about a tunnel complex under construction in a mountainous area near the town of Damavand, east of the capital Tehran.
The NCRI did not specify what kind of atomic activity it believed would be carried out at the alleged new facility once complete.
“This news is in no way true and is denied,” the Mehr News Agency quoted Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi as saying.
“These claims are a continuation of the story-telling of the bankrupt group,” Araqchi said, adding the “terrorist” organization lacked credibility.
The report sparked new concerns in the West, which already suspects the Islamic Republic is trying to develop military nuclear capabilities.
The Paris-based NCRI exposed Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy water facility at Arak in 2002, but analysts say it has a mixed track record and a political agenda. The NCRI, which seeks an end to Islamist theocratic rule in Iran, is the political wing of the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI), which fought alongside Saddam Hussein’s forces in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
The report drew a cautious international response: the U.N. nuclear watchdog and France – one of six world powers trying to diplomatically resolve the nuclear dispute with Iran – merely said they would look into the matter.
In 2009, Iran stated that it planned to build 10 more uranium enrichment sites on top of its underground Natanz and Fordo plants, alarming the West as it could enable Tehran to faster produce material which can have both civilian and military uses.
Tehran’s refusal to curb sensitive nuclear activity, and its lack of full openness with the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, have drawn tough Western sanctions and a threat of preemptive military strikes by Israel.