There is a possibility that Israel may attack Iran's nuclear facilities within the year, senior defense officials in Washington told ABC News today.
There are two "red lines" that would trigger an Israeli attack on Iran, one official said.
The first is whether there's enough uranium produced at the Natanz nuclear facility to create a nuclear bomb. The second "red line" refers to an SA-20 air defense system that Iran is purchasing from Russia.
This is the latest in a series of reports of possible Israeli retaliations against Iranian nuclear capabilities. The New York Times reported last month that Israel carried out a major military exercise over the Mediterranean, appearing to American officials as a "rehearsal" for a potential attack on Iran.
Israel's government officials declined to comment on the reports. But Ephraim HaLevy, former head of the Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence service, said that the question of an Israeli strike on Iran has been "in the air" for a long time.
HaLevy noted President Bush's statements last month, when the president implied the possibility of force if diplomatic efforts failed to deter Iran from developing its nuclear program.
"When President Bush said that all the options were going on the table, this option was certainly one of them," HaLevy told ABC News.
"The Iranians must be aware that the world as a whole, and Israel within it, will not sit back and let the Iranians get nuclear capability without doing anything to stop it," HaLevy said.
"Nuclear capability in Iran's hands is not nuclear capability in safe hands," he added, "and so it affects all the countries in the world."
Israel is a country especially concerned about Iran's nuclear capability.
"Iran has made it clear that one of the major aims of their foreign strategic policy is to see the destruction of the state of Israel," HaLevy said. "Anything that gives them the capability to get to this realm of possibility needs to be dealt with before it's imminent."
But not everyone believes in the possibility of an attack.
In an interview with ABC News, Hirsch Goodman, senior research associate at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, described the recent chatter as "just the latest in the hype that has been generated in the last few weeks."
"It's all total rubbish by anonymous officials who want to create an atmosphere of pressure on those who need to make decisions and implement sanctions."
Goodman said that the point of these reports was to put Iranians "under the microscope" so that they will be on the defensive and cooperate with the UN nuclear sanctions.
"In reality, whether such an attack is feasible, I don't believe it for one minute," he added.
"If Israel attacks Iran, it would open up a whole cyst of issues," Goodman said. "It would open up the door to bio-terrorism, it would unite Islamic countries in a movement against Israel, and it would cause the Americans problems.
"It would be a total act of folly and I don't believe that Israel intends to do it," he said.
HaLevy, the former Mossad head, said an Israeli attack would be a last resort. "This option of last resorts speaks not only to the adversaries of Iran but to Iran itself," he said.
"The implications of this are not in Israel, not in Washington, but in Iran itself."
"If Iran chooses to risk all the consequences that might ensue," he said, "they are taking a grave risk for themselves."