Reuters: Iran has stepped up work to develop a nuclear warhead, Israeli newspapers said on Sunday, citing officials in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and leaked U.S. intelligence.
By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Iran has stepped up work to develop a nuclear warhead, Israeli newspapers said on Sunday, citing officials in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and leaked U.S. intelligence.
The front-page reports in the liberal Haaretz, a frequent Netanyahu critic, and in the conservative, pro-government Israel Hayom could intensify Israeli debate about whether to go to war against Iran – and soon – over its disputed atomic projects.
Doing so would defy appeals by U.S. President Barack Obama, seeking re-election in November, to allow more time for international diplomacy. Tehran says its nuclear ambitions are peaceful and has threatened wide-ranging reprisals if attacked.
Citing an unnamed senior Israeli official, Haaretz said a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) compiled by the Obama administration included a “last-minute update” about significant Iranian progress in the development of a nuclear warhead “far beyond the scope known” to U.N. inspectors.
Israel Hayom reported NIE findings that Iran had “boosted efforts” to advance its nuclear program, including work to develop ballistic missile warheads, and said U.S. and Israeli assessments largely tallied on this intelligence.
Neither daily newspaper provided direct quotes or detailed evidence. For Haaretz, it was the second report since Thursday purporting to draw on a new NIE.
Israeli government spokesmen had no immediate comment. Asked about the reports in an Israel Radio interview, Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser suggested they be taken at face value.
“There is too much attribution of manipulation, which does not exist, to this or that official,” Hauser said. “There are a great many things that are just as they are, for better or worse.”
Washington has not commented on whether such an NIE exists. But its officials say the U.S. intelligence assessment remains that the Islamic republic is undecided on whether to build a bomb and is years away from any such nuclear capability.
Israel, widely reputed to have the region’s sole atomic arsenal, sees a nuclear-armed Iran as a mortal menace and has long threatened to attack its arch-foe preemptively.
The war talk is meant, in part, to stiffen sanctions on Tehran by conflict-wary world powers. Israel and the United States have publicly sought to play down their differences.
Much of the media scrutiny has been on opposition to the war option within the Israeli cabinet, military and public, given the tactical and strategic risks involved. But opinion polls suggest support for an attack is growing.
Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper suggested on Friday that a destabilizing Israeli attack on Iran before November could undermine Obama, a Democrat whose ties with Netanyahu have been testy, and help Republican rival Mitt Romney, who casts himself as a better friend of the Jewish state.
But a senior Israeli official quoted in a separate Haaretz story spoke of the question of who would head the next U.S. administration as largely irrelevant regarding Iran given Israel’s belief that “we cannot place our fate in the hands of others” and “in statesmanship there are no future contracts”.
That official was described by Haaretz as a “decision-maker” and veteran security figure who owns a grand piano – strong signals it was Ehud Barak, Israel’s longtime, centrist defense minister. Ex-general Barak is also an accomplished pianist who has recently briefed media in his Tel Aviv penthouse.
Though the Obama administration has refused to rule out a U.S. war of last resort to deny Iran the means to make a bomb, the Israeli official quoted by Haaretz said “expectation of such a binding American assurance now is not serious”.
“And if Mitt Romney is elected, history shows that presidents do not undertake dramatic operations in their first year in office unless forced to,” the Israeli official said.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Pravin Char)
Tanzania confirms it re-flagged 36 Iran ships, to deregister them
By Fumbuka Ng’wanakilala
DAR ES SALAAM | Sat Aug 11, 2012 8:57pm EDT
(Reuters) – Tanzania said a shipping agent based in Dubai had reflagged 36 Iranian oil tankers with the Tanzanian flag without the country’s knowledge and approval.
Tanzania said it was now in the process of de-registering the vessels after an investigation into the origin of the ships concluded they were originally from Iran.
Tanzania launched an investigation last month over accusations that it had reflagged oil tankers from Iran and asked the United States and European Union to help it verify the origin of the tankers flying the east African country’s flag.
A report with the investigation’s findings was discussed in the House of Representatives of Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania late on Friday, and the minutes of that debate were seen by Reuters late on Saturday.
Reflagging ships masks their ownership, which could make it easier for Iran to obtain insurance and financing for the cargoes, as well as find buyers for the shipments without attracting attention from the United States and European Union.
The National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) changed the names and flags of many of its oil tankers ahead of the EU ban, part of sweeping economic measures aimed at pressuring Tehran to end its nuclear program.
The ships flying Tanzania’s flag were re-flagged by Zanzibar, which has claimed it was misled by its Dubai-based agent, Philtex, and would end its contract with that firm.
“The government has thoroughly investigated this issue and established that the Zanzibar Maritime Authority (ZMA) through our Dubai-based agent, Philtex, registered 36 Iranian crude oil tankers and containership vessels to fly the Tanzanian flag,” Zanzibar Vice President Seif Ali Iddi told the assembly.
“The Zanzibar government is in the process of de-registering the ships and also terminating its agency contract with Philtex after establishing the truth that these (Iranian) ships are flying the Tanzanian flag.”
Howard Berman, the ranking member of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, had accused Tanzania of reflagging at least six and possibly as many at 10 tankers, saying it was helping Iran evade U.S. and European Union sanctions aimed at pressuring Tehran to curb its nuclear program.
He said Tanzania could face U.S. sanctions for the practice.
Berman has also asked the small South Pacific island nation Tuvalu to stop reflagging Iranian oil tankers and warned its government of the risks of running afoul of U.S. sanctions.
(Writing by James Macharia; editing by Todd Eastham)