JERUSALEM — Israel has told the Bush administration that Iran is closer to having a nuclear weapon than was previously thought, but acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he is confident that the West will not allow that to happen.
The head of the Mossad intelligence service, Meir Dagan, traveled to Washington last week to meet with counterparts in the CIA and pass on Israel’s latest findings on Iran’s nuclear progress.
An Israeli satellite launched last week from a Russian cosmodrome in Siberia began sending high-resolution photographs over the weekend. Israeli specialists termed the results “amazing.”
However, Mr. Dagan’s report was based on earlier information that Israeli sources say indicates that Iran is closer to nuclear capability than is generally realized.
Mr. Olmert, in a weekend interview with the German newspaper Bild, denounced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in some of the strongest language yet heard from an Israeli leader.
“Ahmadinejad talks today like Hitler spoke before seizing power,” Mr. Olmert was quoted as saying. “We are dealing with a psychopath of the worst kind, with an anti-Semite. God forbid this man from ever getting his hands on nuclear weapons.”
Iran, which reiterated yesterday that it would go ahead with plans to enrich uranium in defiance of the U.N. Security Council, maintains its program is for peaceful purposes. Most Western countries reject that claim, and Mr. Olmert said he did not think Tehran would be allowed to succeed.
“The West, above all under the leadership of the United States, will ensure that Iran under no circumstances comes to possess unconventional weapons,” he said.
Mr. Olmert did not say what Mr. Dagan told his American counterparts last week. But the London Sunday Times quoted an Israeli source yesterday as saying that the Mossad had evidence of hidden uranium enrichment sites in Iran “which can shortcut their timetable in the race for their first bomb.”
The source said Mr. Dagan presented American officials with that evidence and told them: “This is what we know and this is what we’ll do if you continue to do nothing.”
Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset’s foreign affairs and defense committee, also described his concern about the Israeli intelligence findings. “When I read the recent reports regarding Iran, I saw a monster in the making,” said Mr. Steinitz, whose committee oversees the Mossad.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a report Friday accusing Tehran of failing to comply with a Security Council deadline to freeze its nuclear fuel enrichment and instead speeding up its nuclear activities.
The eight-page IAEA report said Iran had curtailed its cooperation with agency inspectors, making it increasingly difficult to track Tehran’s nuclear program. The agency expressed concern over the “gaps” in its knowledge about Iran’s centrifuge program and the role of Iran’s military in nuclear development.
Three of the five veto-wielding Security Council members — the United States, Britain and France — are expected to introduce a resolution this week under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter for a mandatory halt to uranium processing.
The chapter leaves military action as a last resort, but the other two permanent members — China and Russia — are reluctant to approve even economic sanctions.