Israeli press gripped by reports of nuclear war plans on Iran
JERUSALEM (AFP) Oct 12, 2003
Newspapers were gripped here Sunday by US and German press reports of Israel's nuclear capabilities and that spy agency Mossad has drawn up preemptive plans to attack six nuclear sites in archfoe Iran.

The Yediot Aharonot, Maariv and Haaretz dailies splashed on a Los Angeles Times report that modified US-made cruise missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads on submarines, allowing Israel to launch atomic weapons from land, air or sea.

The three newspapers also carried reports in Monday's edition of the Germany Der Spiegel magazine that a special Mossad unit received orders two months ago to prepare plans for strikes on half-a-dozen targets in Iran suspected of being used to prepare nuclear weapons.

Complete destruction of the targets by F-16 fighter bombers was deemed achievable by Mossad, it said, citing Israeli security officials.

Maariv published a map of Iran complete with aerial shots of the suspected nuclear sites.

Yediot ran a photograph of an Israeli Dauphin submarine, using a graphic to explain how it could sneak up on the enemy and fire its nuclear warheads with satellite-guided precision.

In 1981 Israel bombed the Osirak nuclear power station near Baghdad, smashing former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's nuclear programme, the press reminded its readers.

But a similar air attack against Iran would be far riskier, the papers said. Its nuclear sites are dotted across vast expanses and Iran's eastern border is 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) from Israeli air bases, making bombing sorties vulnerable.

Haaretz echoed the Los Angeles Times by saying the foreign reports were probably an organised leak to dissuade Iran from developing a nuclear arsenal.

However, Israeli political sources quoted by Yediot said reports about attack plans were "imaginary", adding that at this stage there is no prospect of military action against Iran.

"Israel will not be the first country to introduce nuclear arms to the Middle East, nor the first to use them," said a senior Israeli official, branding the weekend's press reports as "speculation".

Israel has come to regard Iran as its chief military threat since the downfall of Saddam in April.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied having nuclear arms, but Washington has accepted it as a nuclear power since 1969 and analysts say it has up to 200 sophisticated nuclear weapons.

Arab countries have criticized the United States and the United Nations for pressuring Iran to accept tougher inspections while ignoring the stockpile in Israel, which is not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In a 1991 documentary on Israeli television, then foreign minister Shimon Peres revealed for the first time that France had agreed to equip Israel with "nuclear capability" in 1956.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has imposed an October 31 deadline on Iran to prove it is not secretly developing nuclear weapons and also urged it to suspend enriching uranium, which the United States claims could be used to make nuclear bombs.