Sunday, 18 November 2007

US and Israel 'face up to' Iran bomb

November 18, 2007

By Philip Sherwell in New York and Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem

America and Israel are secretly drawing up plans to deal with an Iran
that has acquired nuclear weapons, The Sunday Telegraph has learned.

Teheran's two arch-foes are preparing for what they have long declared
is an unacceptable scenario, as the prospects for air strikes to
cripple Iran's nuclear network fade, and China and Russia undermine
efforts to forge an international sanctions regime.

The United States and Israel are sticking publicly to their threats
not to allow the Islamic Republic to develop an atomic bomb. But
intelligence chiefs and military planners have given warning that Iran
has done better at hiding and dispersing its nuclear facilities than
previously assessed, this newspaper has been told.

The revelations come as the United Nations nuclear watchdog has
revealed that Iran has stepped up its production of enriched uranium,
and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tightens his grip on Teheran's
nuclear programme by threatening domestic critics with treason

Pentagon strategists are updating US deterrence policies for a future
nuclear-armed Iran, even though ­ after the terrorist attack on New
York and Washington in 2001 ­ the Bush administration put a policy of
pre-emptive military action at the heart of national security policy.

"The more they looked at the intelligence and the information they
had, the more pessimistic they have become about what could be
achieved on the operational front by military action," said Dan Goure,
a Pentagon adviser. "Military strikes might only set the programme
back a couple of years, but the current thinking is that it is just
not worth the risks." A political rethink has also begun in Israel,
where security policy is linked to its status - never publicly
admitted - as the region's only nuclear state.

At a security cabinet meeting last weekend, Ehud Olmert, the prime
minister, told officials to draw up proposals for dealing with an Iran
that had built atomic weapons, according to leaks.

"First, we must make clear that this is a threat not just to Israel,
but to the wider world. Second, we must exhaustively consider all
preventive options. Third, we must anticipate the possibility of those
options not working," said Ami Ayalon, a security cabinet minister,
after the meeting.

Israel's air force trains for possible long-range raids, and bombed a
suspected nuclear site in Syria recently. But military chiefs face the
same intelligence problems as the US as well as refuelling
difficulties if they cannot fly over hostile Arab states to reach

Israel is believed to be equipping a fleet of German-made submarines
with atomic weapons ready to respond to any nuclear threat from
Teheran, and Ehud Barack, the defence minister, is keen to develop a
sophisticated ballistic anti-missile system.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is only for civilian energy
purposes, but the West and Israel say there is overwhelming
intelligence that it is pursuing an atomic bomb. Estimates of the
time-frame range from two to 10 years.

US hawks linked to Vice-President Dick Cheney have argued that a
co-ordinated aerial and submarine-launched bombardment could set
Iran's nuclear programme back by five to 10 years.

But Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, who has emerged as a White
House counterweight to Mr Cheney, has made concerns about possible
retaliation against US forces in Iraq a top priority.

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