Several foreign embassies in Teheran are updating their emergency evacuation plans should a Western or Israeli attack on Iran occur.
According to foreign sources, foreign diplomats believe a possible attack would take place before the end of 2007. By that time, Iran might have enough enriched uranium to cause a humanitarian and environmental catastrophe from radioactive fallout should its nuclear facilities be damaged or destroyed in an attack.
Embassies in all countries generally have evacuation plans for their staff, but foreign sources describe the general atmosphere in Iran as one of heightened preparedness. Recently, several diplomatic missions based in Teheran have begun to reassess their plans, and embassies without permanent security officers have requested them.
Embassy experts reportedly are testing various evacuation options and logistics, such as timing routes to different destinations by different types of vehicles. The plans include evacuation for all staff.
Foreign sources say both the United States and Israel, who accuse Iran of wanting to develop nuclear weapons, want to give diplomatic efforts aimed at stopping Iran's nuclear drive the best possible chance to succeed.
But according to these sources, should the West or Israel feel that the time needed for diplomatic efforts is longer than the time it would take for Iran to obtain nuclear independence, they are likely to strike at Iran's main nuclear facilities before the damage done by such an attack would cause serious radiation fallout. Such fallout would likely kill many civilians and render some parts of Iran uninhabitable for an undetermined period of time.
According to this logic, the timing of such an attack would take place just before Iran has enriched an amount of weapons-grade material that, if damaged, would cause such a humanitarian and environmental catastrophe, it could be construed as a nuclear attack.
The assessments posit that Israel and the US will try to delay an attack until the last moment due to the expected Iranian counterattack and regional deterioration.
Similar dilemmas over timing were faced by Israel before the 1981 raid that destroyed Saddam Hussein's reactor at Osirak. According to "The Raid on the Osirak Nuclear Reactor," an article by researcher Avi Hein, the Israeli cabinet in 1981 received word that "a shipment of 90 kilograms of enriched uranium fuel rods is expected from France to Iraq, ready for radiation." The moment the rods would be placed in the reactor, there would be a danger of radiation fallout if the reactor was attacked. This was the decisive factor for deputy prime minister Yigael Yadin, who had initially opposed the plan to attack Osirak, but changed his mind after receiving the news about the fuel rods, Hein wrote.
According to other published sources on the Osirak strike, Israel felt any raid had to take place well before nuclear fuel was loaded to prevent radioactive contamination.
It is now known that during the strike preparations, one question affecting the timing was the estimated date the reactor would become "live," after which a strike could cause radiation fallout on civilians.
In the current standoff with Iran, US pressure on many countries and multinational corporations to divest from Teheran is bearing fruit. But in the final analysis, Iran is not seen likely to stop its nuclear program, and UN sanctions are regarded as likely to take too long to have an effect.
Should it be attacked, Iran is expected to launch missiles against Israel and an offensive against US forces in the Middle East. Teheran is also expected to activate Hizbullah in a full assault against Israel. Israeli security services also expect attacks on Jewish interests and institutions worldwide.
Syria is still deciding if it will go "all the way" with Iran, or abandon its one friend in the world and return to the international fold. Syria's potential role in such a regional conflagration is undetermined. Saudi Arabia has been exerting consistent and mounting pressure on both Syria and Iran to change course.
Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is making political moves within Iran's Supreme Council to limit the power of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - who many in Iran feel is out of the control of the ruling elite.
At first, the ayatollahs acquiesced to Ahmadinejad's foreign policy line - which has at its core the drive for nuclear power, the ambition to replace Saudi Arabia as Islam's "core state," and the stated aim to destroy Israel - because of the former mayor of Teheran's wide popular support. For approximately the past year, there has been a noticeable growing concern among the ruling elite that Ahmadinejad is slipping out of their control, even though there is little chance he could take over supreme power and authority.