PM could order strike on nuclear targets within weeks
- Iranian TV announces upgrades to short-range missiles and more powerful naval engine
- Fateh-110 missile with range of about 180 miles included in upgrades
- Israel has said it is contemplating air strikes on Iran's nuclear sites
By MATTHEW KALMAN and TIM SHIPMAN
DAILY MAIL 21 August 2012
Israel is planning a military strike against Iran’s nuclear programme before November, security sources in Israel have claimed.
British officials say prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has begun a process of ‘sounding out’ his voters to gauge support for airstrikes and build a case for military action.
Alon Ben-David, the well-informed military correspondent for Israel’s Channel 10 News, claimed on Monday that the country was ‘closer than ever’ to a strike against Iran.
Israeli leaders believe that President Obama, locked in a close election battle with Republican Mitt Romney, would be forced to back an Israeli strike – even though US military chiefs are against it – for fear of alienating Jewish voters in key swing states such as Florida.
Tensions grew yesterday when Iranian leaders displayed a new arsenal of Fateh-110 short-range missiles designed to destroy targets within 180 miles, including US warships in the Persian Gulf.
Western intelligence agencies are watching the regime in Tehran closely after senior figures described Israel as ‘a cancer’ that should be ‘wiped off the map’ at the weekend.
The hardware was presented at a ceremony attended by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Yesterday Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said: ‘I have no doubt that our defensive capabilities can stand up to bullying and put a halt to their plans.’
Mr Netanyahu has described the Islamist country’s nuclear ambitions as ‘an existential threat’ that could be used to destroy the Jewish state.
But British and American security chiefs believe military action would spark a lethal Middle East conflict.
Last week, US defence secretary Leon Panetta and the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, held an unprecedented briefing at the Pentagon to warn against an Israeli strike.
‘They could delay but not destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities,’ General Dempsey said. This week he added that the US and Israel had reached ‘different conclusions’ about the imminent threat from Iran.
British diplomats and intelligence chiefs believe Mr Netanyahu is preparing the ground for possible military action but stress they have no foreknowledge of any attack.
‘We would not expect to know anything about it in advance,’ one official said. ‘It is not even clear whether they would tell the Americans until very close to the act itself, or possibly slightly after it.’
Western intelligence agencies doubt whether an Israeli strike alone would be enough to destroy the Iranian nuclear programme, but they acknowledge that Israel believes even delaying it might be a price worth paying.
‘It looks like Netanyahu is having a very vocal conversation about this to build the case for action or to test the ground with his own electorate, or possibly both,’ the official said.
The UK has also sent the message that an escalating roster of economic sanctions against Iran should be used to encourage them to back down.
Even senior Israeli defence and intelligence figures, including the recently-retired head of the Mossad spy agency, have opposed an Israeli attack.
Military analysts have warned that, without US bunker-busting bombs and other vital armaments, Israel cannot destroy Iran’s well-defended nuclear installations.
But Mr Netanyahu appears determined to strike.
‘From the prime minister’s point of view, the time for action is getting ever closer,’ Ben-David said.
Behind the scenes, a shadow intelligence war appears to be escalating. Key Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated or disappeared and Iran’s computer networks have been infiltrated by a series of sophisticated viruses apparently designed to sabotage control systems at its nuclear research facilities.