US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta believes there is a growing possibility Israel will attack Iran as early as April to stop Tehran from building a nuclear bomb, US media reported.
The Washington Post first reported that Panetta was concerned about the increased likelihood Israel would launch an attack over the next few months. CNN said it confirmed the report, citing a senior Obama administration official, who declined to be identified.
“Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June - before Iran enters what Israelis described as a “zone of immunity” to commence building a nuclear bomb,” Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote.
“Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon - and only the United States could then stop them militarily,” Ignatius wrote.
Ignatius did not cite a source. Panetta and the Pentagon both declined comment on the Post report.
Israel, widely believed to possess the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, views Iran’s uranium enrichment projects as a major threat and has not ruled out the use of military force to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.
The Post article said the postponement of a joint US-Israeli military exercise that had been scheduled for this spring may have signaled the prospect of an Israeli attack soon.
Israel’s Military Intelligence Chief said on Thursday he estimated that Iran could make 4 atomic bombs by further enriching uranium it had already stockpiled, and could produce its first bomb within a year of deciding to build one.
But in his rare public remarks, Major General Aviv Kochavi held out the possibility that stronger international sanctions might dissuade Tehran from pursuing a policy he had no doubt was aimed at developing nuclear weapons.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said separately that “if sanctions don’t achieve the desired goal of stopping Iran’s military nuclear program, there will be a need to consider taking action.”
Meanwhile, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his country has its "own threats" to respond to any military attack or sanctions against its oil exports.
"In response to threats of oil embargo and war, we have our own threats which will be implemented at the right time, if necessary," he said in a televised speech as he led the Friday prayers in Tehran.
Source: Arab News; The Washington Post; CNN