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LONDON - Three German-built Israeli submarines equipped with nuclear cruise missiles are to be deployed in the Gulf near the Iranian coastline, according to a report tucked away in the Sunday Times.

According to the report, the submarines of Flotilla 7 - Dolphin, Tekuma and Leviathan - have visited the Gulf before, but now Israel has been decided to leave at least one of the vessels in those water permanently. This is due to fears that ballistic missiles developed by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah could hit sites in Israel, including air bases and missile launchers, the British paper stated.

Perhaps indicating the Sunday Time's confidence in the veracity or the sourcing of the story, the report appeared yesterday on the bottom of page 30 of the paper, right next to a (longer ) article on the wife of former Formula One Renault team head Falvio Biratore complaining that her breast milk dried up after Italian police seized Biratore's yacht over unpaid taxes.

The Times reporter does not seem to have spoken to any top Israeli military sources himself, but does quote from an Israeli paper that has, in turn, spoken to the flotilla's commander, identified only as "Colonel O."

"We are an underwater assault force. We're operating deep and far, very far, from our borders," the commander is quoted as saying, adding that "we're a solid base for collecting sensitive information, as we can stay for a long time in one place."