JERUSALEM — Iran is now capable of producing atomic weapons, Israel's top military intelligence officer said Sunday, sounding the highest-level warning that Israel's arch-enemy has achieved independent nuclear capability.
At a Cabinet meeting, the chief of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, did not say Iran already has an atomic bomb, participants said. However, he said, Iran has "crossed the threshold" and has the expertise and materials needed for one.
The participants spoke on condition of anonymity because the Cabinet meeting was closed. They said Yadlin told them that Iran continues to accumulate uranium for enrichment and hopes to exploit the Obama administration's intention to open a dialogue as a cover for developing nuclear weapons.
Yadlin's comments follow a similar assessment by the U.S. military chief, Adm. Mike Mullen. He said a week ago that Iran has enough fissile material to build a bomb now.
Israeli officials have long identified a nuclear Iran as the most serious threat to the Jewish state. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel, and Iran has tested long-range missiles that could strike Israel.
Israel's long-held policy is that the world must cooperate to defuse the Iranian nuclear threat. While not directly threatening to take out Iran's nuclear facilities, Israel has avoided taking the military option off the table.
Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, who is putting together the next Israeli government, has said for years that Iran represents an existential threat to the Jewish state. He is seen as more likely than other Israeli leaders to order an attack.
However, most experts believe that wiping out the Iranian nuclear program is beyond the ability of Israel's military. In 1982, the Israeli air force destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor in a lightning strike, but Iran's facilities are scattered around the country, some of them underground.
Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.
Last week an Iranian leader declared that Iran's missiles can strike all of Israel's nuclear facilities. The main Israeli reactor is in the southern Negev desert, and a smaller research reactor is closer to the center of the country.