Iran 'can build nuclear bomb now'

An Israeli former intelligence chief has said that Iran could build a nuclear bomb any time it wants, a claim that could aggravate tensions between Israel and the United States and heighten fears that the Jewish state could launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

Amos Yadlin, the military intelligence chief until his retirement in 2010, said Tehran had all the components necessary to build an atomic weapon, reflecting a prevailing Israeli view that Iran is on the verge of acquiring a nuclear bomb.

"If the Iranians get together tonight and decide to develop a bomb secretly, then they have all the resources and components to do so," General Yadlin told the Israeli newspaper Maariv. His comments came as General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Israel on a visit widely interpreted as an effort to divine the Jewish state's intentions towards Iran, and to warn it against taking any military action that could plunge the region into a new war.

Israel has repeatedly insisted that the military option remain on the table should diplomacy fail, declaring that Iran's nuclear ambitions pose an existential threat. Israel and the West have rejected Tehran's claims that its nuclear programme is peaceful, not military, in nature.

Washington, which said last month that Iran could have a nuclear bomb within a year if it chose, nevertheless believes that Tehran has not yet made the decision to build an atomic weapon and is insisting that Israel allows more time for tougher sanctions to take effect.

In remarks that appeared aimed at cooling tensions with the US, the Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, said on Wednesday that an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities was "very far off." He denied that General Dempsey's visit was intended to convey a message from the White House.

Concern in Washington over Israel's intentions has deepened at a time of heightened regional tensions, with Iran threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic oil shipping conduit.