US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta believes there is a growing possibility Israel will attack Iran as early as April to stop Tehran from building a nuclear bomb, US media reported on Thursday.
The Washington Post first reported that Panetta was concerned about the increased likelihood Israel would launch an attack in the next few months. CNN said it confirmed the report, citing a senior official in the administration of US President Barack Obama, who declined to be identified.
“Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood 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 US could then stop them militarily,” he added.
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 to comment.
Israel 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 US-Israeli military exercise that had been scheduled for this spring could signal an Israeli attack.
Washington and the EU 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 that it could close the vital Strait of Hormuz shipping lane if sanctions succeed in preventing it from exporting crude, a move the US said it would not tolerate.
Israeli Director of Military Intelligence Major-General Aviv Kochavi said on Thursday he estimated that Iran could make four atomic bombs by enriching uranium it had already stockpiled, and produce its first bomb within a year of deciding to build one.