Israel may attack Iran 'in two or three years', says defence minister

Benny Gantz told graduating air force cadets they may soon be attacking nuclear sites in Iran

Israeli warplanes at Hatzerim Air Force Base near Beer Sheva in southern Israel. EPA
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Israel could attack Iranian nuclear sites in two or three years, its defence minister has said in unusually explicit comments about a possible timeline.

"In two or three years, you may be traversing the skies eastward and taking part in an attack on nuclear sites in Iran," Benny Gantz told graduating air force cadets in a speech on Wednesday.

It follows last month's comments from army general Aviv Kochavi, who said Israel and the US would speed up military plans to counter Iran as it aggressively pursues its nuclear agenda.

“We are at a critical point in time that requires the acceleration of operational plans and co-operation against Iran and its terrorist proxies in the region," Lt Kochavi said during a visit to Washington.

Iran has ramped up its uranium enrichment as efforts to revive the now-tattered 2015 nuclear deal continue to fail. It now has a large stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, one step away from being able to produce a nuclear bomb.

Officials from the UN's nuclear watchdog visited Iran earlier this month in an effort to end an impasse over its uranium enrichment at three undeclared sites, but the meeting ended with little change.

Some experts say Iran will not increase enrichment to the needed 90 percent for several years - an estimate echoed by an Israeli military intelligence general this month.

The Israeli military intelligence forecast for 2023 is that Iran "will continue on its current path of slow progress" in the nuclear realm, according to Israel Hayom newspaper on Sunday.

"Iran will only change its policies if extreme sanctions are imposed on it; then it could decide to accelerate enrichment to military grade," said the report, which a military spokesperson confirmed to Reuters as genuine intelligence assessments.

Israel has long issued veiled threats to attack its arch-enemy's nuclear facilities if it deems Western diplomacy with Tehran has reached a dead end.

It has admitted to attacking Iran-linked Hezbollah targets in neighbouring Syria.

However, some experts doubt Israel has the military clout to deliver lasting damage to Iranian targets.

Israel neither confirms nor denies having nuclear weaponry. Scholars believe it does, having acquired the first bomb in late 1966.

Updated: December 28, 2022, 9:17 PM