Israel’s military is preparing so it could launch major aerial attacks on Iranian nuclear sites if ordered to, a British newspaper said Saturday, as Iran marked its armed forces’ day with a parade that appeared more muted than in the past.
"Israel wants to know that if its forces were given the green light, they could strike at Iran in a matter of days, even hours," an unnamed senior defense official told The Times.
"They are making preparations on every level for this eventuality. The message to Iran is that the threat is not just words."
Among preparatory steps being taken are the acquisition of three Airborne Warning and Control (AWAC) aircraft and regional missions to simulate the attack, the paper said.
Israel, widely considered to be the Middle East’s sole nuclear armed power, suspects the Islamic Republic of using the program to develop atomic weapons, a charge that Tehran has repeatedly denied.
Needs US Approval
The Jewish state considers Tehran to be its arch-enemy because of repeated calls by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for Israel to be wiped off the map.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who took power on April 1 at the helm of a right-wing government, has repeatedly made clear that his priority is confronting Iran.
Israeli officials quoted by The Times said more than a dozen targets could be envisaged, including Tehran’s main nuclear sites at Natanz, Isfahan and Arak.
"There has been a recent move, a number of on-the-ground preparations, that indicate Israel’s willingness to act," an official from Israel’s intelligence community said.
He added it was unlikely Israel would strike without at least tacit approval from the U.S.
U.S. President Barack Obama has taken a more conciliatory tone to Iran than predecessor George W. Bush, calling on the Islamic republic to "unclench" its fist soon after taking office in January.
Meanwhile Iran marked Army Day on Saturday with a low-key military parade and a speech by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that contrasted sharply with what is perceived as confrontational tone of previous years, and little sign of the anti-Western banners and slogans normally seen at the annual event.
"The power of the Iranian armed forces is at the service of the nations … and will help to preserve the region’s security and stability," Ahmadinejad said in a speech at the parade outside Tehran.
"Today the Iranian nation, with its religious armed forces, is ready to have a wide role in world management and to establish security based on justice across the world," he said.
However Ahmadinejad refrained from boasting about Iran’s military might after Washington called for dialogue over Tehran’s controversial nuclear drive.
The Iranian president’s remarks were echoed by armed forces chief General Hasan Firouzabadi, who said: "Our president has never challenged others and has only responded to the insults of others against the Islamic republic."
Yahya Rahim Safavi, military adviser to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Iran "has never been a threatening force in the region, but has always sought peace and stability, something that will happen with the departure of foreign forces."
Earlier this month, the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain said they would ask European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana to invite Iran to a meeting to find a diplomatic solution to the nuclear row.