Israel Denies Seeking Air Corridor for Iran Attack

Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh denied yesterday that Israel was in talks with the United States to use Iraqi airspace as part of possible plans to attack Iranian nuclear sites.

Britain's Daily Telegraph, citing an unnamed senior Israeli defense official, said yesterday that Israel had sought permission from the Pentagon to use an "air corridor" in Iraq in the event that it decided to launch air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.

"We are planning for every eventuality, and sorting out issues such as these (airspace passage) are crucially important," the Daily Telegraph quoted the Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying.

"If we don't sort these issues out now, we could have a situation where American and Israeli war planes start shooting at each other," he added, according to the newspaper's Web site.

Asked if Israel had turned to the U.S. to use Iraqi airspace in any possible attack, Sneh told Israel Radio: "No such approach has been made - that is clear."

"Those who do not want to take political, diplomatic, economic steps against Iran are diverting attention to the mission we are supposedly said to be conducting," Sneh said.

"[They] are anxious to spread the idea that we are planning to attack Iran in order to absolve themselves of the need to do the things that have been requested of them," he added.

Israel and the West accuse Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian atomic power program, which Tehran denies.

Iran has said it wants to negotiate with the Europeans and even the United States, but has refused to halt its nuclear enrichment activities as a pre-condition for talks.

Neither Israel nor the United States has ruled out military force on Iran, although Washington says its priority is to reach a diplomatic solution.

Israeli strategic analysts have said it would go against Israeli military doctrine to seek U.S. permission for any possible strike on Iran, given the need for total secrecy.

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said yesterday that the United States and its allies must not allow Iran to become a nuclear power.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany will meet in London next week to discuss possible further steps, on top of UN sanctions barring the transfer of nuclear technology and know-how that were imposed in December.