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Aljazeera.com February 21, 2005

Israel presses U.S. to stop Iran's nuclear program

Israel is privately pushing the United States to stop Iran's nuclear program, hinting that Tel Aviv may have no choice but to attack Tehran's nuclear facilities, U.S. defense officials say.

The defense officials said that Israel isn't concerned about Iran in a "you attack or we do" warning to the U.S., but they noted that top Israeli officials have repeatedly raised Iran's nuclear program during their visits to Washington over the past 18 months.

Israel's concerns are one of the main reasons that made the U.S. toughen its stance on Iran and increase its intelligence collection on Iran's nuclear sites, including surveillance flights by unmanned U.S. drones.

Israel and the U.S. accuse Iran of covertly developing an atomic weapons program. But Tehran strongly rejects the accusations, and insists that its nuclear plans are strictly aimed at the peaceful generation of electricity.

Last week, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, said that there was no evidence to support the claim that Iran is making nuclear weapons.

The defense officials said they believe that the U.S. President George W. Bush will take military action against the Islamic republic before leaving office in 2009.

Members of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, have publicly called for launching pre-emptive strikes on Iran now. In 1981, Israel attacked the Osiraq nuclear reactor in Iraq but the great distances and the more developed Iranian program mean that any Israeli strike would be far tougher than the one-target strike on Saddam Hussein's plant.

The U.S. "would have no problem" attacking Iran

Military analysts said that Washington "would have no problem" taking out Iran's major nuclear sites if it decided to launch a pre-emptive strike.

Gen. McInerney, a Vietnam War fighter pilot, said that the B-2 stealth bombers, backed with the huge penetrating bombs known as the "bunker busters," would be able to pierce Iran's aging air defenses and strike 20 or more sites.

"They have not updated that very, very old air defense system," he said. "I can tell you from my personal experience we would have no problem there."

Also John Pike, chief of the GlobalSecurity.org, said that any mission to attack Iran would likely include the F-117 strike fighters, as well as B-2s.

"As some of the facilities are still under construction and not yet active, the United States may have a window of opportunity that would allow it to destroy those locations without causing the environmental problems associated with the destruction of an active nuclear reactor." Pike said.

Currently Bush is allowing European countries to persuade the Iranians to dismantle their nuclear program and he is leaving the International Atomic Energy Agency to handle inspections.

Bush said on Friday, "First of all, you never want a president to say never, but military action is certainly not, is never the president's first choice."

He added: "I hear all these rumors about military attacks, and it's just not the truth. We want diplomacy to work."

However, Bush pledged that he would support Israel if it was threatened by Iran. "Israel is our ally, and in that we've made a very strong commitment to support Israel, we will support Israel if her security is threatened," he said.

Earlier this month, Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, the deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, which is in charge of military operations in the Persian Gulf region, said that the command routinely updates war plans, including the one for Iran.

"We are in that process, that normal process, of updating our war plans," he said.


Copyright 2005, Al Jazeera Publishing Limited