A NUCLEAR IRAN

US and Israel ‘face up to’ Iran

BOMB 
By Philip Sherwell in New York and Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem

Last Updated: 4:35pm GMT 18/11/2007

America and Israel are secretly drawing up plans to deal with an Iran that has acquired nuclear weapons, The Sunday Telegraph has learned.

Teheran’s two arch-foes are preparing for what they have long declared is an unacceptable scenario, as the prospects for air strikes to cripple Iran’s nuclear network fade, and China and Russia undermine efforts to forge an international sanctions regime.

The United States and Israel are sticking publicly to their threats not to allow the Islamic Republic to develop an atomic bomb. But intelligence chiefs and military planners have given warning that Iran has done better at hiding and dispersing its nuclear facilities than previously assessed, this newspaper has been told.

The revelations come as the United Nations nuclear watchdog has revealed that Iran has stepped up its production of enriched uranium, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tightens his grip on Teheran’s nuclear programme by threatening domestic critics with treason charges.

Pentagon strategists are updating US deterrence policies for a future nuclear-armed Iran, even though — after the terrorist attack on New York and Washington in 2001 — the Bush administration put a policy of pre-emptive military action at the heart of national security policy.

“The more they looked at the intelligence and the information they had, the more pessimistic they have become about what could be achieved on the operational front by military action,” said Dan Goure, a Pentagon adviser. “Military strikes might only set the programme back a couple of years, but the current thinking is that it is just not worth the risks.” A political rethink has also begun in Israel, where security policy is linked to its status – never publicly admitted – as the region’s only nuclear state.

At a security cabinet meeting last weekend, Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, told officials to draw up proposals for dealing with an Iran that had built atomic weapons, according to leaks.

“First, we must make clear that this is a threat not just to Israel, but to the wider world. Second, we must exhaustively consider all preventive options. Third, we must anticipate the possibility of those options not working,” said Ami Ayalon, a security cabinet minister, after the meeting.

Israel’s air force trains for possible long-range raids, and bombed a suspected nuclear site in Syria recently. But military chiefs face the same intelligence problems as the US as well as refuelling difficulties if they cannot fly over hostile Arab states to reach Iran.

Israel is believed to be equipping a fleet of German-made submarines with atomic weapons ready to respond to any nuclear threat from Teheran, and Ehud Barack, the defence minister, is keen to develop a sophisticated ballistic anti-missile system.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is only for civilian energy purposes, but the West and Israel say there is overwhelming intelligence that it is pursuing an atomic bomb. Estimates of the time-frame range from two to 10 years.

US hawks linked to Vice-President Dick Cheney have argued that a co-ordinated aerial and submarine-launched bombardment could set Iran’s nuclear programme back by five to 10 years.

But Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, who has emerged as a White House counterweight to Mr Cheney, has made concerns about possible retaliation against US forces in Iraq a top priority.

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