Panetta believes Israel may strike Iran this spring: reports

WASHINGTON Thu Feb 2, 2012 8:53pm EST

Related Topics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta believes there is a growing possibility Israel will attack Iran as early as April to stop Tehran from building a nuclear bomb, U.S. media reported on Thursday.

The Washington Post first reported that Panetta was concerned about the increased likelihood Israel would launch an attack over the next few months. CNN said it confirmed the report, citing a senior Obama administration official, who declined to be identified.

"Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June - before Iran enters what Israelis described as a 'zone of immunity' to commence building a nuclear bomb," Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote.

"Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon - and only the United States could then stop them militarily," Ignatius wrote.

Ignatius did not cite a source. He was writing from Brussels where Panetta was attending a NATO defense ministers' meeting.

Panetta and the Pentagon both declined comment on the Post report.

Israel, widely believed to possess the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, views Iran's uranium enrichment projects as a major threat and has not ruled out the use of military force to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.

The Post article said the postponement of a joint U.S.-Israeli military exercise that had been scheduled for this spring may have signaled the prospect of an Israeli attack soon.

Washington and the European Union imposed tighter sanctions on Iran in recent weeks in a drive to force Tehran to provide more information on its nuclear program.

Iran has said repeatedly it could close the vital Strait of Hormuz shipping lane if sanctions succeed in preventing it from exporting crude, a move Washington said it would not tolerate.

Israel's military intelligence chief said on Thursday he estimated that Iran could make four atomic bombs by further enriching uranium it had already stockpiled, and could produce its first bomb within a year of deciding to build one.

But in his rare public remarks, Major-General Aviv Kochavi held out the possibility that stronger international sanctions might dissuade Tehran from pursuing a policy he had no doubt was aimed at developing nuclear weapons.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said separately that "if sanctions don't achieve the desired goal of stopping (Iran's) military nuclear program, there will be a need to consider taking action."

(Reporting by JoAnne Allen in Washington and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Peter Cooney)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (18)
neahkahnie wrote:
Could this be the “old disinformation game?” Why would he tell the world of an ally’s plans? Hmmm.

Feb 02, 2012 9:07pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Martyz wrote:
First of all why on earth would he announce something likethat, it is almost treason…. Second of all when the U.S. does it’s war thing like Viet Nam or Iraq or anywhere else, they sure as hell don’t get the OK from anyone, they just attack…

Feb 02, 2012 9:16pm EST  --  Report as abuse
halfadder wrote:
Why should the USA allow anyone to initiate a nuclear attack?

Feb 02, 2012 9:32pm EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.