Israel buys nuclear subs

WITH Iran confidently defying pressure to curb its nuclear programme, Israel has signed a contract with Germany to buy two more submarines capable of firing nuclear missiles, it emerged yesterday.

Israeli security sources said the submarines are needed to counter long-range threats from countries such as Iran, whose president has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map".

Israel has been expanding its military in the light of Iran's nuclear ambitions. It already has three Dolphin-class submarines which can fire nuclear missiles, but the newer models can remain submerged far longer.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The deal was signed last month and the submarines will be operational shortly, the Jerusalem Post reported. Germany has agreed to take on the costs of up to a third of the value of the 1 billion deal.

Israel, which has never officially admitted possessing atomic weapons, has an estimated 60-85 nuclear warheads, according to the United States Defence Intelligence Agency.

The country's military planners have a clear preference for submarine-launched nuclear weaponry. Given Israel's small land area, launch sites for missiles would be easy to detect and therefore possible to destroy. Submarine-based missiles give the country a more credible deterrent.

Iran handed over its answer to an incentive package drawn up by the US, Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany this week. The package is designed to get it to stop its uranium enrichment programme.

"As we have always said ... a return to the negotiating table is tied to the suspension of uranium enrichment," Philippe Douste-Blazy, the French Foreign Minister, said yesterday.

Last night, the semi-official Mehr news agency said Iranian authorities would announce a "very important achievement" in an area of nuclear technology within days. Mehr quoted an unnamed official and did not specify what the achievement was. It is understood that Iran has offered to address the issue of suspension in negotiations, if the international community accepts its offer of immediate talks.

Iran also offered to use its influence in Lebanon to help to organise an exchange of prisoners between Israel and Hezbollah: an offer Iranian officials said reminds the world of Iran's "stabilising role".

Iran insists its nuclear programme is solely for generating electricity and denies western accusations that it is seeking the ability to develop an atomic bomb.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Iranian brinkmanship has always relied on divisions within the international community, and Tehran will be encouraged by the first response to its proposals yesterday. Washington is pressing for sanctions if Iran fails to meet the 31 August UN deadline, while China and Russia said negotiations were the only way of easing tensions.

"China has always believed that seeking a peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomatic talks is the best choice and in the interests of all parties concerned," a Chinese foreign ministry statement said.

Russia said it would continue "seeking a political, negotiated settlement concerning Iran's nuclear programme".

France said the international community was willing to negotiate, but only on condition Iran first suspends its uranium-enrichment programme.

Ironically, American-driven attempts to curb Iranian nuclear ambitions have been "severely compromised" by the US-led war on terror, which has delivered Iran regional supremacy, according to a report released yesterday by the Royal Institute of International Affairs, at Chatham House, in London.

The report said the US had eliminated Iran's two main regional rivals, the Taleban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, but "has failed to replace either with coherent and stable structures". Iran now wields more influence than the US in Iraq and is also a "prominent presence" in Afghanistan.

"There is little doubt that Iran has been the chief beneficiary of the war on terror," the report added.

The West needs to understand better Iran's links with its neighbours to see why "Iran feels able to resist western pressure", the Chatham House report said. Confident in its position, Iran would continue to "prevaricate" in the nuclear dispute.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The US has refused to rule out the military option to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions. The Chatham House report warned of the dangers of such action. "If the US were to attack Iran, then it would do so knowing that its forces in Iraq would be at an even greater risk then they currently are," it said. "Any US attack would expose the US presence in Iraq to retaliatory destabilising interventions by Iran."

Iranian newspapers were mixed on the nuclear issue. The hardline press urged the regime to reject any nuclear freeze and even to increase the stakes. "The only way ahead is to leave the Non-Proliferation Treaty and put an end to this ridiculous game," wrote Hossein Shariatmadari, the influential editor of Kayhan. Another hardline daily, Jomhuri Islami, declared: "Suspension: never, negotiation: always."

But a reformist paper, Hambastegi, suggested that Iran should suspend enrichment in order to resolve the dispute peacefully.