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Speculation is mounting over the likelihood that Israel would attack Iran's nuclear facilities within the next few months. Iran insists its robust nuclear program is solely for civilian purposes, but Israel believes it is trying to build a nuclear bomb. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Jerusalem on the debate inside the country over whether or not to attack.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence today asked America's top intelligence officials the question on everyone's mind: Is Israel preparing to strike Iran's nuclear facilities? While the director of national intelligence declined to make his assessment of that likelihood public, James Clapper did says that, quote, "Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons, making the central issue its political will to do so." That echoes an earlier American estimate that Iran could cross the nuclear threshold this year.
The United States and the European Union have agreed on tough new sanctions against Iran's oil industry and central bank, aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear ambitions. That was welcomed here in Israel as a sign of the international community's recognition of the seriousness of the Iranian nuclear threat. But still, the general feeling here is that sanctions aren't enough.
BRIGADIER GENERAL YOSSI KUPERWASSER: The reason I'm skeptical about it is that for the Iranians the idea of getting a nuclear weapon is so important that even if these sanctions are causing them a lot of trouble, they would still be more inclined to continue the project in spite of the sanctions.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Brigadier General Yossi Kuperwasser is the director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs in Israel. He's been deeply involved in assessing Iran's nuclear capabilities.
KUPERWASSER: They are getting closer and closer. They build better and better capability to produce a nuclear weapon.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: In recent days, there has been a flurry of high-level meetings between the U.S. and Israel, including most recently a visit to Washington by the head of Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad. Some analysts here believe all the signs are that Israel is preparing to attack Iran's nuclear facilities soon.
DR. RONEN BERGMAN: There's a high probability that Israel might strike in 2012.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ronen Bergman is one of Israel's foremost military experts whose prediction of a strike on Iran this year appeared in the weekend edition of The New York Times Magazine. Others disagree with him and say Israel is using the threat of an attack to push the international community towards tougher sanctions and galvanize a reluctant America into action. They also question whether Israel actually has the capability to inflict serious damage. Iran has been moving some of its critical nuclear facilities say analysts and military officials deep underground. And not only are Iran's installations protected, they're also scattered. But Bergman says the objective of an Israeli strike is limited in scope.
BERGMAN: According to the Israeli assessment a successful strike, a strike that would be conducted according to planning, would be able not to destroy the project, nobody thinks that that Israel is able to destroy it, even are the Americans, but to inflict a significant damage that would end with a delay of three to five years.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that has led some to go beyond the questions of will they or won't they and can they, to should they.
MEIR JAVADANFAR: How long would an attack set the Iranian nuclear program back by? The longest estimate I've heard is two to three years. This is not long enough in any way shape or form to justify a military strike against the Iranian nuclear program.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Meir Javadanfar, an Iran analyst in Tel Aviv.
JAVADANFAR: A military strike would rally people around the nuclear program, and it would push this regime to rebuild the nuclear program, which means that Israel may have to keep bombing Iran every three years. Is this the scenario that we want to live?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Israel has bombed the nuclear facilities of two countries already: Syria and Iraq. Neither government retaliated. But Bergman says there are several doomsday scenarios out there if Israel goes to war with Iran.
BERGMAN: A rain of rockets from Hezbollah in the north, Iran and Hamas in the south that the Israeli population is not really protected against.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And he says that more than anything else may stay Israel's hand. He says despite all the recent drills preparing the Israeli population for possible attack, the country isn't psychologically prepared for what a war with Iran could unleash.
BERGMAN: If it wasn't for this consideration, Israel would have attacked long ago.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Jerusalem.
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