A former head of US Central Command, which covers the Middle East, has said that a US and Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities would not be a "one-time shot", and it will not bring the programme to an end completely.
"If the US were to put a full-fledged strike campaign in there, that would probably take several weeks, and it could put this programme back for several years," Admiral William Fallon told the research group American Security Project.
Although he did not rule out military action against Iran, Fallon said that Israel would face a more difficult task than when it secretly bombed nuclear sites in Iraq and Syria in earlier years. Israel is less capable than the US, he pointed out. "It's not going to be a one-time shot. It's not going to be like '81 or even 2007."
The former US military official attributed the challenges of such a war to the fact that Iran's nuclear facilities are not a "pinpoint target"; they are sections of a largely underground area.
Regarding the efficiency of such an attack on Iran's nuclear programme, Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that a study signed last year by several US officials, including Fallon, said that military action should be a last resort which could set back the nuclear programme by up to four years. Chuck Hagel, President Obama's nominee for Secretary of Defence in his new administration, was also a signatory to the report. Nevertheless, the newspaper said that a US senator has claimed that Hagel has promised to plan for military action against Iran as a priority as and when he enters the Pentagon.
Iran has acknowledged that it is developing nuclear power, but it rejects Western claims that it is seeking to produce nuclear weapons. The programme is, insists Tehran, purely for peaceful purposes.
On Wednesday, the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) said that it would revisit the Parchin site, where Iran is alleged to have tested components needed to develop a nuclear capability after senior UN investigators opened a new round of talks with Iranian officials in Tehran. According to US think tank the Institute for Science and International Security, however, Iran is on track to be able to produce material for at least one nuclear warhead by mid-2014. Iran says that such suspicions are based on forged "evidence" provided by the CIA, Israel's Mossad, Britain's MI-6 and other intelligence agencies.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said previously that his government provided detailed explanations to IAEA questions on six outstanding issues but instead of giving Iran a clean bill of health, the agency levelled new allegations on the basis of "alleged studies" provided by Iran's enemies.
"The obligations of the other party must be specified clearly," Mehmenparast told the media on Tuesday. "If a claim is to be raised about a spot in Iran every day and the UN agency seeks to visit our military facilities under such a pretext, this issue will be never-ending."
The new round of talks is expected to lead to Iranian discussions of the nuclear issue with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany in order to reach an agreement by which Iran pledges to produce uranium for peaceful purposes only.