LONDON — A British newspaper reported Sunday that Israeli pilots were training to strike targets in Iran with low-yield nuclear weapons, but Israel swiftly denied the report and analysts expressed doubts about its reliability.
Citing unidentified Israeli military sources, The Sunday Times said the proposals drawn up in Israel involved using so-called “bunker-buster” nuclear weapons to attack nuclear facilities at three sites south of the Iranian capital.
Israel has never confirmed it has nuclear weapons, although the Jewish state is widely believed to possess a significant stockpile.
Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes like generating electricity.
The Sunday Times reported that Israeli military officials believed Iran could produce enough enriched uranium to build nuclear weapons within two years, and the newspaper said Israeli pilots had made flights to the British colony of Gibraltar to train for the 2,000-mile round trip to the Iranian targets.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office declined to comment on the report. “We don’t respond to publications in The Sunday Times,” said spokeswoman Miri Eisin.
However Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev denied the report, saying: “if diplomacy succeeds, the problem can be solved peaceably.”
The United States and its allies suspect Tehran of secretly trying to produce atomic weapons there.
Some view Israeli officials’ occasional implied threats as a means of pressuring the world community to take action, building on the recent United Nations Security Council decision to impose some economic sanctions on Tehran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.
Some analysts viewed Sunday’s report as another element of delicate diplomacy.
“I refuse to believe that anyone here would consider using nuclear weapons against Iran,” Reuven Pedatzur, a prominent defense analyst and columnist for the Israeli daily Haaretz, told the AP. “It is possible that this was a leak done on purpose, as deterrence, to say: ’Someone better hold us back, before we do something crazy.”’
Ephraim Kam — a former senior intelligence official now at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies — also suggested the report should not be taken literally. “No reliable source would ever speak about this, certainly not to the Sunday Times,” he said.
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