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An Israeli strike won’t delay Iran’s nuclear weapons program. It will start it.

In spite of the hype, there is no definitive evidence Iran is working to develop a nuclear weapon. A new study suggests that the one thing that could launch an Iranian drive to weaponize, however, would be an Israeli strike.

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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem Sept. 2. Mr. Netanyahu is urging the international community to get tougher against Iran, saying that without a "clear red line" Tehran will not halt its nuclear program. Op-ed contributor Yousaf Butt says: 'Quite apart from the fact that an Israeli attack on Iran would be against international law, it would likely convince Iran to kick out IAEA inspectors and kick off full-fledged nuclear weaponization.'

Baz Ratner/AP

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Last week, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told reporters that an Israeli attack on Iran would “clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear program.” This is true enough, but it is important to note that the general did not say Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

While Iran’s ongoing nuclear enrichment program could be used to gather the material needed for a bomb, there is no definitive evidence that Iran has kicked off such a weaponization effort. The one thing that would almost surely launch an Iranian drive to weaponize, however, would be an Israeli strike.

While there is no clear indication Iran is currently working on a nuclear weapon, there is considerable evidence to the contrary. In fact, following the release of the 2011 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed in the spring of 2011 that he had a “high confidence” that Iran had not restarted their nuclear weapons program.

And International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors continue to meticulously monitor Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium to make sure none is being diverted to any military related activities. Mohamed El-Baradei, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who spent more than a decade as the director of the IAEA, said that he had not “seen a shred of evidence” that Iran was pursuing the bomb during his time at the agency (1997 – 2009), adding “All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran.”

Even Defense Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledged this fact: “Are [the Iranians] trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they’re trying to develop a nuclear [weapons] capability. And that’s what concerns us.”

Of course, a nuclear weapons capability comes with the territory: Any nation with a fully developed nuclear fuel cycle has such a weapons capability. In fact, this could be considered a major flaw in the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. For instance, Japan, Argentina, and Brazil also have a latent nuclear weapons capability. Just like you can't get a speeding ticket for a car that is capable of going 110 miles per hour, it is not illicit to have a latent nuclear weapons capability.

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