Attack on Iran 'would speed up nuclear work'
By Tim Butcher, Middle East Correspondent
Last Updated: 1:38am GMT 05/03/2007

A military strike against Iran's nuclear weapons programme would have the effect of accelerating the Islamic Republic's production of prototype warheads, according to a report by leading British think tank.

Instead of the widely-accepted five year timeframe for Iran's industrial nuclear programme to produce weapons, the report said a strike would make Iranian experts put together a device in a fraction of the time.

"It would be a bit like deciding to build a car from spare parts instead of building the entire car factory," the report said.

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"Put simply, military attacks could speed Iran's progress to a nuclear bomb."

The report, which is to be released today MON, is published by the Oxford Research Group and written by Frank Barnaby, a leading British nuclear weapons specialist.

Asked to address the question "would air strikes against Iran work?" he concluded they would not, largely because so little is known about the exact state of Iranian nuclear knowledge.

"With inadequate intelligence, it is unlikely it would be possible to identify and subsequently destroy the number of targets needed to set back Iran's nuclear programme for a significant period," the report said.

"In the aftermath of a military strike, if Iran devoted maximum effort and resources to building one nuclear bomb, it could achieve this in a relatively short amount of time."

His conclusion echoed intelligence discoveries in Iraq where Saddam Hussein's regime was found to have continued covert attempts to produce nuclear weapons even after Israeli warplanes destroyed Iraq's only reactor at Osirak in 1981.

While Saddam's regime was unable to acquire the technology and expertise required to build a device under its covert programme, it is feared Iran would have a greater chance of success.

The Oxford Research Group report won the immediate backing of Hans Blix, the former United Nations chief weapons inspector, who is opposed to any military strike on Iran.

"Armed attacks on Iran would very likely lead to the result they were meant to avoid the building of nuclear weapons within a few years," he said.

"In the case of Iraq, the armed action in 2003 launched aimed to eliminate weapons of mass destruction that did not exist.

"It led to tragedy and regional turmoil.

"In the case of Iran armed action would be aimed at intentions that may or may not exist.

"However, the same result tragedy and regional turmoil would inevitably follow

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