JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel held back a response on Wednesday to U.N. findings that Iran appears to have worked on designing an atomic bomb, first evaluating the international impact of a report it has said should trigger “lethal sanctions” against Tehran.
Government sources said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered cabinet ministers not to speak out about the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) document, a sign he may prefer -- for now -- to let world powers take the lead in charting moves to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East’s only atomic power, has said all options are on the table, including a military one, to stop an Iranian nuclear drive that it has termed a threat to its existence.
Speculation in Israel about an imminent attack on Iran was fueled last week by the test-launching near Tel Aviv of a long-range missile and comments by Netanyahu that Tehran’s nuclear program posed a “direct and heavy” threat.
“Now after the report the facts are clear: the world knows where Iran is going and the world needs to stop Iran,” Tzipi Livni, a former Israeli foreign minister and head of the main opposition Kadima party, told Reuters.
“This is not only an Israeli interest. This is the interest of the entire world,” she said.
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 does 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 air force 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.