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Israel denies plans to attack Iran
The British Sunday Times reported Sunday that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ordered the IDF to prepare to attack Iran's nuclear facilities at the end of March 2006, after Israeli intelligence supposedly discovered a number of secret uranium enrichment sites that were disguised as civilian buildings.
The article claimed that "military sources" have revealed that "Israel's armed forces have been ordered by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to be ready by the end of March for possible strikes on secret uranium enrichment sites in Iran."
The Sunday Times said that Israel had established an intelligence base in northern Iraq, and had even sent forces into Iran. The article also reported that ever since Sharon gave his order last week, IDF "special units" have been on high alert.
In response to the Sunday Times article, Maj.-Gen. (Res.) Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's foreign policy department, said in an interview to Israel Radio that while a military operation against Iran's nuclear facilities could not be ruled out, Israel was a partner in international diplomatic efforts to address the threat from Teheran.
Gilad denied the Times allegations that Israel planned to attack Iran in March 2006.
On Saturday, the same day UN nuclear watchdog chief ElBaradei received the Nobel peace prize, he appeared to warn Israel not to bomb Iranian atomic reactors.
"You cannot use force to prevent a country from obtaining nuclear weapons. By bombing them half to death, you can only delay the plans," he was quoted as saying by the Oslo newspaper Aftenposten. "But they will come back, and they will demand revenge."
The report said ElBaradei did not mention Israel, but it was clear he was referring to its increasingly open discussion over whether to protect itself by bombing Iranian nuclear facilities.
The report was in line with what ElBaradei said at a news conference in Oslo on Friday - that military force was not a solution to world concerns about the Iranian nuclear weapons program and could be counterproductive.
Israeli officials declined to respond to the report directly, but Sharon's spokesman Ra'anan Gissin did say, "Israel has no intention of launching an attack against Iran, definitely not before all diplomatic options have been exhausted."
He stressed that "Israel is not leading the campaign against Iran," but that that whole international community - chiefly the US and Europe - has been concerned and active on the issue.
He added that statements suggesting Israel will bomb Iran weren't helpful, in part because they "exonerate the Europeans" from taking action, "which is something we don't want to happen." He described the Europeans as "the ones who hold most of the cards to influence Iran."
ElBaradei and the IAEA have been seeking a negotiated settlement with Iran, in which inspections could prove whether it was still attempting to develop nuclear weapons. On Friday, he said it was too early to bring the matter to the UN Security Council, but that the next few months would be crucial.
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