DUBAI: Iran and Israel have sharpened their accusations against each other about building nuclear weapons amid a breakdown of consensus among UN Security Council members over the imposition of fresh economic sanctions against Iran.
The director of research with the Israeli military intelligence, Yossi Baidatz, told Israel's Cabinet on Sunday that Iran had advanced its nuclear timetable. He said Tehran was already in possession of one-third to half of nuclear material that is required to make an atomic bomb. Iran was ceaselessly working to acquire a nuclear capability, undeterred by the threat of international sanctions, he added.
Iran's Press TV, in its riposte, said Israel had moved towards developing thermonuclear weapons, which can destroy entire cities. The state-run channel quoted a report from The Sunday Times that thermonuclear weapons were being developed in an Israeli factory beneath the Negev Desert. This factory has apparently been producing atomic warheads for the past 20 years.
The report added that the testimony of Mordechai Vanunu, a former employee at Israel's atomic facility in Dimona, had revealed information about Israel 's capacity to manufacture bombs. Vanunu's testimony and pictures, confirm that Israel has the world's sixth-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons, including hundreds of nuclear warheads, it said.
Meanwhile, in a new round of sabre-rattling, Iran on Monday began aerial exercises, in which dozens of fighter jets, unmanned aerial vehicles and surveillance aircraft participated. In mid-August, Iran's Air Force chief, Ahmad Miqani, had announced Iran's jets could fly 3,000 km without refuelling, a range which was sufficient to target Israel.
Israeli media had earlier reported the U.S. was supplying Tel Aviv with the latest bunker buster bombs, which could target Iranian underground nuclear facilities.
Tensions between Israel and Iran have escalated following Russia's conflict with Georgia, and Moscow's assertion that it opposed imposition of fresh sanctions against Tehran. China has also voiced its opposition to targeting Iran with a new round of sanctions.