LONDON (AFP) — Israel's military is preparing so it could launch major aerial attacks on Iranian nuclear sites if ordered to by the new government, a British newspaper said on Saturday, quoting Israeli defence and intelligence sources.
"Israel wants to know that if its forces were given the green light, they could strike at Iran in a matter of days, even hours," an unnamed senior defence official told The Times.
"They are making preparations on every level for this eventuality. The message to Iran is that the threat is not just words."
Among preparatory steps being taken are the acquisition of three Airborne Warning and Control (AWAC) aircraft and regional missions to simulate the attack, the paper said.
Israel, widely considered to be the Middle East's sole nuclear armed power, suspects the Islamic Republic of using the programme to develop atomic weapons, a charge that Tehran has repeatedly denied.
The Jewish state considers Tehran to be its arch-enemy because of repeated calls by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for Israel to be wiped off the map.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who took power on April 1 at the helm of a right-wing government, has repeatedly made clear that his priority is confronting Iran.
In his inaugural address, Netanyahu said the biggest threat Israel faced was the possibility of "a radical regime armed with nuclear weapons" -- an apparent reference to Iran.
Israeli officials quoted by The Times said more than a dozen targets could be envisaged, including Tehran's main nuclear sites at Natanz, Isfahan and Arak.
"We would not make the threat without the force to back it," an official from Israel's intelligence community said.
"There has been a recent move, a number of on-the-ground preparations, that indicate Israel's willingness to act," the official said.
He added it was unlikely Israel would strike without at least tacit approval from the US.
US President Barack Obama has taken a more conciliatory tone to Iran than predecessor George W. Bush, calling on the Islamic republic to "unclench" its fist soon after taking office in January.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that the Obama administration could drop a long-held US insistence that Tehran suspend uranium enrichment in the early stages of any negotiations on the issue.
One analyst, Ephraim Kam of the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, told The Times he thought it unlikely the US would approve an attack.