New intelligence information obtained by Israel and four Western countries indicates that Iran has made greater progress on developing components for its nuclear weapons program than the West had previously realized, according to Western diplomats and Israeli officials who are closely involved in efforts to prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb.
A Western diplomat who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to discuss intelligence information said the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Israel agree on that assessment.
According to the source, this assessment began to take shape in February, when Iran refused to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit the base at Parchin, where it is believed Iran is carrying out part of the research and development of its military nuclear program. Visits of IAEA inspectors in Iran, and especially revelations of information the Iranians had been trying to hide, intensified suspicions that Tehran was developing nuclear weapons at a faster pace than it had previously seemed.
Last month Britain's Daily Telegraph reported that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards has established a new team of 60 nuclear scientists to develop Iran's military nuclear program at the Lavizan base near Tehran. In 2006, IAEA inspectors visited that base, which belongs to the Guards' missile development agency.
The Daily Telegraph based its report on information from the Iranian opposition group Mujahideen al-Khalq. Members of the group told the paper that the work of the Iranian scientists in the "weapons group" is at an advanced facility involved warheads and detonators.
An American think tank called the Institute for Science and International Security released a satellite photo of the Parchin base showing, according to Western intelligence, that Iran is developing nuclear weapons there. Taken on July 25 and released on August 1, the picture shows that the Iranians have completed what the American think tank called "cleanup" of the site where the base was.
According to researchers at the institute, the photos they received show that the Iranians have bulldozed a number of structures at the base and leveled the surrounding land, which the institute's staff suspect was done to erase evidence of nuclear activity at the site.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly said in a closed meeting last week that he was not deterred by the prospect of an inquiry committee investigating a possible Israeli attack on Iran.
Iran's defense minister, General Ahmad Vahidi, told reporters in Tehran that an Israeli attack on Iran "is impossible unless the Zionist entity wants to commit suicide ... Iran is completely prepared to respond to an attack against it."
The Ugandan option
Netanyahu told U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that an Israeli or American military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities was likely to help topple the ayatollah regime, just as the 1976 Entebbe raid led to the defeat of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, according to a senior Israeli official.
The comment came when Romney asked Netanyahu during their July 29 meeting in Jerusalem whether he thinks an Israeli attack on the nuclear facilities would unite Iranians, ultimately strengthening the regime, the official said.
In explaining why he thinks that would not happen, Netanyahu recounted what he said was Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's statement to him that the raid ultimately led to Amin's downfall three years later.
"Ugandan President Museveni told me the Entebbe raid was a turning point in the effort to topple Idi Amin," the Israeli official quoted Netanyahu as saying. "He said the operation strengthened Amin's rivals because it revealed how vulnerable his regime was."
Museveni made the comments when Netanyahu visited Uganda in 2005 to dedicate a memorial for his brother Yoni Netanyahu, the commander who was killed while rescuing 100 hostages from pro-Palestinian hijackers at Entebbe airport in Uganda, the official said.
Museveni took part in the war that deposed Amin in 1979.
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