JERUSALEM Israel on Wednesday called on the world to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, after the U.N. nuclear watchdog said Tehran appeared to have worked on designing an atomic bomb and may still be conducting secret research.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report, obtained by Reuters on Tuesday, confirmed long-standing concerns over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
"The IAEA report corroborates the position of the international community, and of Israel, that Iran is developing nuclear weapons," Netanyahu's office said in a statement.
"The significance of the report is that the international community must bring about the cessation of Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons which endanger the peace of the world and of the Middle East," the statement said.
Israel sees a nuclear Iran as a threat to its existence, and though it has routinely said all options are on the table in confronting Tehran, including a military one, it has thrown its support behind U.S.-led international sanctions.
Speculation about an imminent attack on Iran was fueled last week when Israel test-launched a long-range missile near Tel Aviv and by comments by Netanyahu that Tehran's nuclear program posed a "direct and heavy" threat.
Political commentator Ben Caspit, writing in the Maariv newspaper, said the United States, Europe, China and Russia understood that time for a diplomatic solution was running out and "if they do not pick up the gauntlet and block the bomb this coming winter, Israel will not be responsible for its actions."
In a radio interview on Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the findings by the U.N. nuclear watchdog would come as no surprise to the Jewish state.
"Israel has known these facts well for years: the multiple detonation systems, the ... nuclear warheads planning," Barak said. "We, along with other elements in the international intelligence community, assisted the agency in Vienna in coordinating the information."
He said "lethal sanctions" should be imposed on Iran, alluding to a sea blockade and an international embargo that would "physically stop" its oil exports and import of refined petroleum.
Iran, which denies it wants nuclear weapons, condemned the IAEA findings as "unbalanced" and "politically motivated."
Military experts contacted by Reuters said that if Israel did attack Iran, it would probably focus strikes on nuclear facilities and try to avoid killing civilians en masse or crippling the oil sector.
Israel, which bombed Iraq's Osirak atomic reactor in 1981 and carried out a similar strike in Syria in 2007, lacks heavy long-range bombers. But its advanced F-15 and F-16 warplanes could hit sites in western Iran and further inland with air-to-air refueling.
Yossi Melman, who writes about security and strategic issues for Israel's Haaretz newspaper, said he did not believe the IAEA report would deter Iran from trying to build a bomb.
"Iran will continue with its efforts to have nuclear weapons, the sanctions will not be tough enough and diplomatic measures are going to be exhausted. And we are, once again, in the same place -- arguing about the military option," he told Reuters.