A major Israeli newspaper ran a front-page story on Wednesday quoting an unidentified "senior defence official" as saying Israel believed a military strike could disrupt what it says is an Iranian nuclear arms program.
Under a photograph of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sitting the previous day in the cockpit of an F-15I long-range fighter-bomber, mass-selling Maariv quoted the official as saying Israel could carry out such a strike without U.S. approval but time was running out for it to be effective.
Neither the official nor the paper made any comment on the likelihood of Netanyahu ordering such an operation, speculation over which remains a major risk factor in investors' assessments of the Middle East region and in energy markets globally. Israel rejects Tehran's assurances it is developing only civilian nuclear facilities and refuses to rule out armed force to stop its Islamist enemy from acquiring atomic weaponry that the Jewish state says would threaten its very existence.
Israeli air strikes could "significantly delay" such an arms program, Maariv quoted the official as saying. That is in line with previous, independent analysts' assessments. Israel has backed efforts by President Barack Obama to persuade Iran to curb its nuclear program. Maariv said the official added there was "no point" in a strike in the near term, before such discussions had fully begun and before the Americans "despair of the effectiveness of the talks."
The official said: "The Iranians are creating fortifications and camouflage to defend against a strike from the air."The official added: "The military option is real and at the disposal of Israel's leaders, but time is working against them."
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