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Israel: No Iran bomb capability until '07

JERUSALEM -- Israeli estimates of when Iran will be able to build a nuclear bomb have been shifted two more years to 2007, an intelligence report said yesterday, and analysts credited the delay to international scrutiny of Tehran.

Security sources quoted the report -- delivered to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in private and leaked in part to the media -- as saying that within three years Iran would have the means to produce an atomic bomb by itself.

Iran vehemently denies pursuing nuclear weapons, saying its atomic ambitions are limited to generating electricity.

Iranian officials have also accused Israel of trying to distract the international community from its own assumed nuclear arsenal and stoking world opinion against the last Middle East foe that could challenge it militarily.

In 2000, Israeli security sources told Reuters that Iran would have nuclear capabilities within five years and was developing long-range missiles with which to lob warheads at Tel Aviv.

The regional picture has since changed, with a US-led invasion of Iraq bringing neighboring Iran under closer watch by the West -- especially after Tehran admitted in November to buying centrifuges used to enrich uranium from a black market set up by Pakistani nuclear weapons specialist Abdul Qadeer Khan.

For over a year, the United States has tried to pressure the UN International Atomic Energy Agency to report Iran to the Security Council for hiding its uranium enrichment program.

"The sense in Israel is that the international pressure and threat of sanctions against Iran have held up its nuclear ambitions," said Alon Ben-David of Jane's, which publishes Jane's Defense Weekly. "But no one believes the Iranian program has come to a halt."

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