Jerusalem: A former Israeli military intelligence chief says Iran has all the components to build a nuclear bomb, an Israeli newspaper reported on Thursday.
It was not clear whether Amos Yadlin, who retired in November 2010, was referring to the mechanical elements of a bomb or implying the Iranians have sufficient weapons-grade uranium, a critical ingredient for bombmaking.
Still, his remarks reflect the prevalent view in Israel that Iran is on the cusp of producing a bomb — a view at odds with the American assessment that Iran won`t have bombmaking capabilities for years.
"If the Iranians get together tonight and decide to secretly develop a bomb, then they have all the resources and components to do so," Yadlin told Maariv.
Israel considers Iran to be the most fearsome of its foes, citing its nuclear program, arsenal of long-range missiles and repeated references to Israel`s destruction. It has been lobbying the international community for years to block Tehran from becoming a nuclear power.
Tehran claims its nuclear program is designed solely to produce energy and medical isotopes, not weapons. But a report late last year by the UN atomic energy agency bolstered the Israeli and US contention that Iran wants to manufacture weapons.
On Wednesday, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Iran has not started to actually make bombs because that could draw harsher international sanctions and other actions against it.
International anxieties over Iran`s intentions have intensified in recent weeks over US and European moves to step up sanctions against Tehran, Iranian threats to shut down a key channel for the world`s oil supply if Iranian oil exports are blocked, and the assassination of the deputy director of an Iranian uranium enrichment site.
In this jittery climate, the US military chief, Army General Martin Dempsey, is due to arrive later Thursday in Israel on his first official visit. Israeli media analysts have speculated he will warn Israel not to launch a military assault against Iran.
Israel, which targeted an unfinished Iraqi nuclear reactor in a 1981 airstrike, has said it prefers to pressure Iran through sanctions. But Yadlin, in his interview with Maariv, reiterated Israel`s longstanding position that "the military option must be on the table" as a deterrent.
President Barack Obama seemed to be making the same point when he told Time magazine in an interview extract released on Wednesday, "We don`t take any options off the table in preventing (Iran) from getting a nuclear weapon."
Israeli Defence Minister Barak said Israel was "very far off" from deciding whether to launch a military strike on the Iranian nuclear program, though he didn`t give a timeline for a decision.