- The Israeli defence minister, Shaul Mofaz, warned yesterday
that Iran will reach "the point of no return" within the next
12 months in its covert attempt to secure a nuclear weapons capability.
- Tehran denies pursuing a nuclear weapons programme.
- Speaking in London before a meeting today with Tony Blair,
Lieutenant General Mofaz said Iran was the main long-term threat to the
world and stressed that it will not be permitted to build a nuclear bomb.
"None of the western countries can live with Iran having a nuclear
capability," he told reporters.
- Gen Mofaz, a hawk in the Israeli cabinet, who has said
in the past that Israel has operational plans in place for a strike against
Iranian nuclear facilities, refused to rule out military action.
- Mr Blair, speaking in the Commons yesterday, said the
Iranian issue was serious. Asked by the former Labour minister, Michael
Meacher, to give an "unequivocal and categorical assurance" that
Britain would not take part in any attack on Iran, Mr Blair said: "I
know of no such contemplation by the United States of America."
- In an interview with the Financial Times yesterday, Mr
Blair refused to rule out the option of using military force.
- With the US bogged down in the Iraq conflict, opening
another front in Iran would be risky. Iran's Shebab-3 rockets are theoretically
capable of hitting Israel.
- The Israeli and US rhetoric has grown more strident in
the last week and could be aimed at pushing Britain, France and Germany
into taking a tougher diplomatic approach towards Iran.
- The US vice-president, Dick Cheney, said last week that
Israel might launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities,
as it did against Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981.
- Gen Mofaz indicated yesterday that he thought the US
rather than Israel should do it: "It is the strongest power that can
stop any nuclear power, especially in the hands of an extreme regime."
- US officials have confirmed privately a report by the
US reporter, Seymour Hersh, in the New Yorker, that US special forces have
already been in Iran scouting out its nuclear facilities.
- Gen Mofaz, who was born in Iran but left for Israel while
a child, said: "Iran is very close to the point of no return, which
means the enrichment of uranium, and we believe that the leadership of
the US, together with the European countries, should stop as soon as possible
this military nuclear programme in Iran."
- He added that this point of no return would be reached
"in less than a year" and that it would only be "a matter
of years" after that that it would assemble the bomb.
- The Israeli intelligence assessment, shared by the US
and Britain, is that Iran could have a bomb by 2007.
- The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, flew with his German
and French counterparts to Tehran late in 2003 to broker a deal with Iran
to suspend its enrichment programme. The deal broke down last year when
the troika accused Iran of reneging on the deal. A new round of negotiations
is under way and expected to drag on for at least a few months.
- Like the US, which is equally sceptical, Israel is pushing
for the issue to be referred to the United Nations for the imposition of
sanctions and deep inspections by UN staff of Iran's nuclear facilities.
- Gen Mofaz's comment about "point of no return"
echoed a private briefing by Meir Dagan, the head of the Israeli overseas
intelligence service, Mossad, to members of the Knesset on Monday. Mr Dagan
said Mr Cheney's remark that Israel might make a pre-emptive strike was
aimed at pressing Europe to adopt the tougher US approach towards Iran.
- Britain, France and Germany have switched to a harder
approach towards Iran. A confidential EU document leaked to Reuters and
confirmed independently said the troika had told Iran it would be "unacceptable"
for Tehran to keep its uranium enrichment programme, even if, as it claims,
it is solely for civil purposes.
- The commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard ground
forces, Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said yesterday: "Iran
will retaliate against any stupid moves by Israel."
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