- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 7, 2007

LONDON — A British newspaper reported yesterday that Israeli pilots are training to strike as many as three targets in Iran with low-yield nuclear weapons, aiming to halt Tehran’s uranium-enrichment program.

Israeli officials swiftly denied the report, which comes amid growing global concerns over an Iranian project that Washington and other governments think is secretly intended to build atomic weapons.

Israel has never confirmed that it has nuclear bombs, although analysts widely think the Jewish state possesses a significant stockpile and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates referred to an Israeli atomic arsenal during his recent confirmation hearing.

Citing unidentified Israeli military sources, the Sunday Times said plans had been drawn up in Israel for an attack using “bunker-buster” nuclear weapons against atomic facilities at three sites south of the Iranian capital.

The U.S. and its allies suspect Tehran of trying to produce atomic weapons there — and the issue has taken on greater urgency because of Iranian leaders’ statements calling for the destruction of Israel and their recent hosting of a conference questioning the Holocaust.

Though Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has not explicitly ruled out a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, he says the issue should be dealt with diplomatically — and stresses that an Iranian nuclear bomb would be a problem for the entire world, not just Israel.

Some view Israeli officials’ occasional implied threats as a means of pressuring the world community to take action, building on the recent U.N. Security Council decision to impose economic sanctions on Tehran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.

Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes, including generating electricity, and it has called the U.N. move invalid and illegal.

The Sunday Times said Israeli military officials think Iran could produce enough enriched uranium to build nuclear weapons within two years. It said Israeli pilots had made flights to the British colony of Gibraltar while training for the 2,000-mile round trip that would be required to reach the Iranian targets.

Israeli pilots conducted a similar raid on Iraq in 1981, destroying a nuclear facility being built by dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime.

But Iran’s program may be far more difficult to cripple because it is thought to be distributed over many sites and, in part, deep underground.

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